Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beavers 'have positive effect' on rivers and wildlife after centuries of extinction

More pro-beaver propaganda from the Guardian (UK): Beavers could be successfully re-introduced to England and could help restore and conserve rivers and floodplains, according to the government's ecological advisers. But convincing landowners and other countryside groups of their benefits could mean it is many years before the furry mammals and their distinctive dams are seen again in the wild. A major scientific study of all English rivers has identified the New Forest in Hampshire, Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, the Peak District, the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, the Weald of Kent and the Lake District as the six areas with the most suitable habitats. Beavers need 2km lengths of river away from human populations, water at least 60cm deep and ideally, willow and poplar trees on the river bank.

Despite their notoriety for nibbling their way through trees to create their immense dams, according to the report by Natural England and conservation charity People's Trust for Endangered Species, they could have a significant, but largely positive effect on English rivers and wildlife. Studies from all over the world have shown that they can increase the variety of plants, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, as well as mammals such as water voles, otters and shrews. Their dam-building habit can also increase flooding, damage crops and may affect some fish populations.

Beavers were a natural part of the British countryside until they were hunted to extinction for their fur and the secretion from their scent glands that was believed to have medicinal properties. They mostly died out in the 16th century although there is evidence some hung on until the 18th century in some northern rivers. Several beavers are to be introduced to a remote part of Scotland in May following a 10-year long battle between conservationists and landowners, and there are plans to reintroduce them in Wales….

A beaver lodge in Canada, shot by Dickbauch, Wikimedia Commons

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