Exactly how much ecological impact beavers have on once-farmed land was the question – and the results are a surprise.
The BBC reported on a study released in the journal 'Science of the Total Environment,' titled Using ecosystem engineers as tools in habitat restoration and rewilding: beaver and wetlands.
The researchers “looked at the effects a group of beavers had on a wetland in Tayside originally drained for farming,” the BBC explained. “Between 2003 and 2015, the beavers constructed 195 metres of dams, 500 metres of canals and an acre of ponds at the site on a private estate in Blairgowrie, Perthshire.”
Beavers were only reintroduced to Scotland in the last 20 years, so the results were an important – and fascinating – indication of what role they can play in ecological engineering, or rewilding efforts.
“After 12years of beaver presence mean plant species richness had increased on average by 46% per plot, whilst the cumulative number of species recorded increased on average by 148%,” the study authors wrote. “Our study illustrates that a well-known ecosystem engineer, the beaver, can with time transform agricultural land into a comparatively species-rich and heterogeneous wetland environment, thus meeting common restoration objectives. This offers a passive but innovative solution to the problems of wetland habitat loss.”
The evidence is strong that beavers can have a dramatic impact to increase ground water, increase plant and animal life (both in density and in species diversity), and provide a low-cost management option to improve ecosystems, given time. But there can be conflict.
“Pre-emptive engagement to limit conflicts between beaver and stakeholders in agricultural catchments must also be seen as an integral part of any broader scale beaver-aided wetland restoration initiative,” the authors note. The Fur-Bearers’ Living With Wildlife: Beavers campaign, which provides education, training, and in-field solutions to mitigate or prevent conflict with the semi-aquatic species would be an ideal fit for this concern.
The studies continue to pile up that beavers need to be protected and preserved across the environment, not trapped and killed as “pests” or for their fur. With your support, we believe that Canada will truly learn to live with beavers.