Thursday, 18 February 2016

Beavers at work ... Devon dwellers reveal their flair for fighting floods

After a 400-year absence, the industrious rodents are back. On a river near Okehampton their reintroduction has led to biodiversity and cleaner water

Sunday 14 February 2016 00.04 GMTLast modified on Monday 15 February 201611.05 GMT

“Look at these teeth marks!” Professor Richard Brazier pauses, mud oozing over his Wellington boots, to admire the work of a pair of beavers who have been introduced into a patch of Devon woodland. “Just look at the size of them!” He runs his fingers along the incisions left in the exposed trunk of a recently toppled tree, before turning to survey the devastation around him.

The devastation is part of a scheme that backers hope will provide a template for a more balanced approach to flood prevention. The government is spending £3.2bn on flood management in the course of this parliament. As flood events such as those seen in Cumbria at the end of last year become more common, so attention has turned to flood management, with a call for resources to be allocated not to building flood defences to deal with the water when it arrives downstream but prevent it getting there at all.

The beavers resident on the three hectares of woodland near Okehampton in Devon could be part of the solution. In the five years since they moved there, they have toppled trees, gnawed bark, dug channels, constructed dams and made a rather impressive home for themselves.
“Prior to working with beavers we’d never really come across animals that would disrupt your work so much,” says Brazier, a hydrologist at the University of Exeter, as he surveys the tangle of branches and tree trunks.

But there is hope, too. New shoots are sprouting from the felled willows and a closer inspection reveals that beneath the devastation lies further evidence of new life promoted by the beavers’ work. “They are a keystone species who are obviously engineering the environment to their own benefit,” says Brazier. “But what’s interesting is all the other benefits.”

Continued ...

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