How it shapes the landscape
The beaver is a keystone species and one of nature’s most awesome ecological engineers. Through the building of dams, the digging of canals, and the creation of dead wood, beavers create and maintain habitats where an abundance and diversity of life can flourish. Dams prevent soil eroded from fields from being lost to the sea. Carbon and nutrients are trapped, improving water quality downstream. The flow of water is slowed, helping to ameliorate flooding.
Beavers are herbivores, so don’t eat fish (contrary to popular belief) or other animals. Studies have shown that young salmon grow faster and are in better condition in areas where beavers live. A host of other creatures benefit from their presence including insect, amphibian, bird, and mammal species.
Where it likes to be
Beavers require freshwater habitat with lots of woody vegetation. They’ll build dams to create ponds where they can construct their lodges and stay safe. They are herbivores, feeding on grasses and trees. They’ll forage the land around their homes, felling trees and moving branches and twigs into the water.
How much space they need
Beavers need a minimum of a couple of hectares, including freshwater habitat and ample supply of trees and shrubs. Final territory size depends on food availability.
Europe’s largest rodent was hunted to extinction in the UK for its fur and a natural secretion called castoreum, which was used for both perfumes and medicine. Similar declines followed in mainland Europe, with the population plummeting to almost 1000 across the continent. Beavers have since been successfully reintroduced and protected in many countries, including Scotland and England.
What’s so special about beavers?
Explore why we need these ecosystem engineers back in Britain and how they shape our landscapes for the better.
Can we have them in Britain?
Wild beavers, and those in captive release schemes, can be found across Britain. In Scotland beavers have been declared a native species and they enjoy a European Protected Species status. The largest wild population in Scotland lives in the Tay catchment, and has spread into the River Forth catchment.
In England, a successful beaver reintroduction trial was carried out in Devon. After launching a consultation on reintroductions to the wild in 2021 the Government legislated for beaver protection, stating that from autumn 2022 they should be classed as a ‘native species’, paving the way for licensed wild releases beyond enclosures. We are awaiting a formal response to their consultation.
- Keystone species
- Europe’s largest rodent
- Extraordinary ecosystem engineer, creating habitat for a multitude of wildlife
- Hunted to extinction around 400 years ago, now successfully reintroduced at locations across Britain
- Dam building helps ‘slow the flow’, reducing flooding and improving water quality