UK government changes rules for farmers: now allow killing beavers?

Beavers have returned to the UK in the last couple of decades. Becoming extinct in the 16th century, Beavers were an important part of the UK ecosystem.

Beavers are incredible engineers. They build large pools, held back by dams, as well as canals running in many directions. One of the biggest bonuses of this behaviour, is to slow the speed that water has as it runs back into rivers and eventually the sea. This means that in areas where beavers exist, there remains plenty of water even in times during the year when there is little rain. The beaver pools are also fantastic for wildlife, from fish fry, to vast quantities of insects – which can increase farmers yields by pollinating the crops.

So what is the problem? Well, in many places in the country, farmers are now farming on low grade land, and some of this will be lost.

Given that beavers have only been in the UK for about 15 years, and the population only numbers a few thousand at most (while some populations like in Devon numbering in the hundreds or even approaching one thousand), in most of the country they are incredibly rare. Lethal methods of control should very rarely be required. In the vast majority of cases, the beavers should be worked around as the benefits they bring even to the farm are usually greater than the problems they cause. In the rare occasion where the beaver needs to be removed, then it is not necessary to kill it, with the numbers of beavers still so far below the carrying capacity of the UK, it would be relatively simple to catch it and to move it to a river which does not yet have enough.

While it may be cheaper in the short term, for both the farmer and the government, shooting the beaver is unlikely to deal with the problem. In many instances, it will not be long before another beaver takes up the area, which means that the problem is likely to occur again, furthermore, apart from the benefits for the local farm, the beavers behaviour has wider positive impacts.

If the government was to fund nature trusts in each county to help in this work, the price could be kept incredibly low, and the countries environment would benefit greatly

NatureScot has found that there are more than 1000 beavers now living in the wilds of Scotland

Beavers are well and truly back in Scotland. With a population of more than 1000 animals, they are having a big impact on the environment. Less welcome news was that 115 of these animals were killed under licence. Now a population of this size can probably cope with deaths at this level, but it hard to believe that in all these cases this was necessary. At this point, as the population is slowly growing, you would think that translocation would have been a better option. There have also been 31 beavers that were trapped and moved to official reintroduction projects in England and Wales.

Protections must remain in place but beavers are rapidly re-establishing themselves across parts of the uk
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As the gradual but increasingly inexorable recovery of Beavers in the UK gets going, in the Alaskan Arctic beavers are being seen for the first time

Beavers are a native part of British fauna. I have written many times on different advantages that their return is likely to generate. These run from reduced flooding of rivers, created wetland areas which keep flow of water constant, increased biodiversity helping water mammals recover (and the advantage that comes with this is the likely eradication of American mink which cannot compete with otters), filtering out pollutants as well as many more.

Unfortunately, in America, beavers are causing problems that they would not have been able to (in the past). Up until recently, much of places like Alaska were permanently locked in permafrost. Indeed, there are now areas, where, 50 years ago no beavers live – now the land has as many beavers as it can support. Using satellite images, scientists counted 12,000 beaver ponds, a number twice that of 20 years ago.

These images clearly show the huge increase in Beaver dams in the last 20 years

The first concern, is that indigenous people are loosing roads and places that they need to grow enough food to survive.

However, a bigger issue is that it is thought that these beavers could accelerate climate change. As beavers do not hibernate, they store food in their ponds, keeping it fresh for longer meaning that they can continue to have enough food to stay awake through the heart of winter.

The beaver pools that are created when beavers dam rivers, create localized unfrozen hotspots which in turn melts the permafrost in the area. This is the dangerous bit, as the permafrost, that is found throughout all the arctic nations, stores vast amounts of carbon. If the permafrost melts, this will be released and there is enough quantity to pass all problem points that scientists are worried about.

If all the permafrost carbon is released, the world is likely to suffer temperature rises, that may well dwarf the current estimates. This in turn is likely to require billions of people to move as their home country falls below sea level.