Managing wetlands using beavers

Organisation: Wildlife Trusts

Location: National

Type: Research

Link: Visit Website

A wide range of British wetland species depend on the habitats created by this once widespread keystone species.

Beavers create complex wetland mosaics, creating ponds, canals, mires and braided streams, and coppicing trees like willow as aspen to maintain open grassland habitats within the mosaic.  Their wetlands store water in headwaters reducing flooding and ameliorating the impacts of droughts, and trapping pollutants.

This vegetarian animal coppices trees to regenerate fresh young shoots, and grazes grasses and other bankside vegetation.  Beavers feel safe in water and create canals and ponds to expand, explore and exploit the riparian corridor.

In headwaters, they build leaky dams to create open water where little exists. As well as providing extensive habitats for wetland species, the dams trickle water into the headwaters providing healthy base-flows and reducing flooding.

Further downstream they coppice riverside trees, bringing light to more shaded areas and creating habitats for invertebrates and fish. Currently, the use of beavers is restricted to a limited number of fenced sites. However, DWT has submitted an application to monitor the impacts of the animals living wild on the River Otter.

Case Study: Saving Kent’s last remaining ancient semi-natural fenland

A beautiful piece of ancient semi-natural fenland, home to some of the rarest species of plants and animals in the South East, is gradually being restored to its former gloriously wild state as a unique partnership, led by Kent Wildlife Trust with the support of Coca-Cola and WWF, works to improve water quality and quantity in Ham Fen Nature Reserve.

Historically Ham Fen was a part of some 700 hectares of peat-rich valley fen, however due to drainage for intensive agriculture over the years, the fenland was reduced significantly which contributed to the regional extinction of hundreds of species: most notably the rare fen orchid and marsh fritillary butterfly. The last remaining five hectares of fenland – an oasis of wilderness in the heart of some of the most intensive agriculture in Kent – continue to be under pressure and at risk from water abstraction and pollution from chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.

Watch the video to see how Beavers have drastically changed the landscape and the new species that have appeared since the reintroduction of beavers.

Take a fly through a beaver created landscape

In March 2011, a pair of beavers were introduced into this 3ha enclosure. The culm grassland site was being badly encroached by scrub and this drone footage, taken by BBC Springwatch in 2015 shows how the beavers have transformed this site.

Image credit © Vicky Aitkenhead

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