Beavers in Devon Helping to Reduce Local Flooding


Beavers in Devon Helping to Reduce Local Flooding

A Reintroduction of Beavers in Devon are Helping to Reduce Local Flooding

From their trial reintroduction in Devon, the animal’s skills have reduced floodwater and created a haven for local wildlife.
The beavers, resident on three hectares of woodland near Okehampto could be part of the solution. In the five years since they moved there, they have felled trees, dug channels, constructed dams and made an impressive home for themselves.

The Devon project targets three key indicators: water storage, flood attenuation and water quality. The beavers are, helping in all three. The 13 dams they have built along the 150 metres stretch of water have increased water storage capacity, evened out the flow of water and improved the quality of it that leaves from the dams.

A graph showing that the dams have contained sudden rainfall, slowly releasing it along a “staircase” of dams: in this way they prevent the inundation that occurs when water is simply channelled downstream.
There are 20 hectares of intensively managed grassland feeding into the dams – bringing manure, slurry, non-organic fertiliser, standing at the last of the network of dams. The quality of the water can be seen here at the bottom. Beaver activity has filtered out the impurities like a good reed system might do.
The level of sediment coming out of the dams is so low that the deposits of nitrogen and phosphate remaining in the water do not register on the specialised equipment.

Mark Elliott, who leads the beaver project for the Devon Wildlife Trust, pulls a large stone from the water. On the underside, a small community of grubs and larvae writhe and squirm: they are caddisflies and mayflies.

The trust runs a beaver programme on the river Otter in Devon, and two programmes have run in Scotland, but it is the scheme near Okehampton that has provided the most controlled environment and the most reliable data.

The biggest concern the landowners have expressed is not about the beavers, but about the sightseers that come with the beavers – the interest we’ve had and the tourism boost on the river Otter have been exceptional.

Many of the concerns about the reintroduction of beavers could be rooted in the fact that they have been absent for 400 years. An indigenous species, they were hunted to extinction for their fur – used primarily to make hats – their meat and their castoreum, a secretion that was used in medicines.

Perhaps the most common misconception about beavers is that they will eat all the fish in the newly clean rivers, a charge repeated by Labour MP Mary Creagh during a select committee hearing into the government’s response to flooding. It was pointed out that beavers are actually herbivores.

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