Beavers are rebuilding Britain
Along with humans, beavers are some of the most prodigious and ingenious housebuilders the world has to offer. These small mammals have been sculpting the landscape for millions of years, all with the aim of building the perfect home for their family needs.
As with many species, the idyllic countryside life enjoyed by Beavers was brought to an unfortunate end by humans in most parts of the world. It is estimated that the beaver population across Europe and Asia numbered as high as 400 million only a few centuries ago but, once humans began to assign value to their pelts, they were hunted to the edge of extinction.
Britain was the site of the first total destruction of a native beaver population with the last animal being shot in Scotland in 1526.
However, recent trials aimed at ‘rewilding’ Britain have begun the process of reintroducing the beaver to local habitats which lost them centuries ago. Rewilding is large-scale conservation effort aimed at restoring or protecting natural processes through the safeguarding of species or the reintroduction of predators, among other methods. This will improve the biodiversity of areas and their resilience. Britain is very much in need of such measures.
Tests have been carried out on controlled areas in Devon and Scotland to assess the potential benefits of reintroducing beavers to the land, and the results have so far been extremely positive.
The three hectare site in Devon in particular has proven to be a runaway success. Before the test began, the riverside area was overshadowed, literally, by a range of trees which stifled the growth of anything under their canopies. Now that the beavers are in town again, this sunlight-blocking layer has been thinned out and the biodiversity present on the riverside is booming.
Kingfishers have returned to the river, as have herons who are happily feasting on the newly abundant frogspawn, which have become 1000 times more common since the reintroduction of the beavers. This is not to mention the cornucopia of reeds, rushes and water lilies which have sprung back up.
The most astonishing sight though is the home the beavers have constructed for themselves.
Beavers gnaw at the trunks of willow trees, carrying out a natural coppicing process which encourages the growth of new shoots from the trees. Beavers then take these shoots back to their home and weave them into the structure. The sapling trees continue to grow when in the beaver dams, creating a natural and self-reinforcing building material.
As humans continue to look into creating self-healing concrete, green roofs and other innovations which aim to improve the sustainability of our great constructions, perhaps we can look to the ingenuity of the beaver for inspiration.