April 18th – Beavers, a keystone species

Although we are often offered pie-in-the-sky carbon capture schemes, the truth is we have only one tool against climate change; ecological growth.

Despite this knowledge our natural economy is still taking a battering; trees are felled for little reason, ancient woodland is destroyed for housing estates, HS2 and roads. It’s hard not to despair.

There is however one natural tool that we do have; one that can build ecological growth in a very short period of time. A tool that can create and manage wetlands, which in turn act as carbon stores and fire breaks in times of drought. A tool that can reduce downstream flooding. A tool that can massively increase biodiversity by creating the right conditions for fish to spawn, for dragonflies to lay larvae, for an abundance of marshland flowers to thrive, with each in turn providing food and habitat for larger wildlife; butterflies, bees, bats, owls, goshawks. The name of this magical tool? The beaver.

Beavers are known as a keystone species, on account of their importance to the natural environment. Beavers can attract bad press because they fell trees. They do indeed do so, many of which coppice, providing a new type of habitat. Beavers fell trees to create dams. They do this because they need deepish water to escape predators. This in turn creates localised flooding, which then slows the water flow, thus reducing the peaks that cause flash flooding. Beavers don’t fell trees willy-nilly – they rarely stray far from their watery home and it is straightforward to protect special trees by a simple application of PVA and sand.

Beavers have been living in the Tamar for a number of years now, with little conflict. Our deep valleys and low grade farmland are ideal for them. Cornwall will shortly be appointing a beaver officer, which I hope will speed the process of re-introduction, which given the crisis we are currently in still feels far too slow.

Of course I may have my opinion, but there are those who are far better informed that I. And in the coming week there are two opportunities to hear from people who have lived with beavers on their land. 

The first is on Tuesday the 25th April in Hessenford Village Hall from 7pm, when Chris Jones of the Cornwall Beaver Project will be doing a talk about beavers. 

It is nearly six years since Chris Jones welcomed beavers on Woodland Valley Farm as a means of reduce flooding in his local village of Ladock. The results were immediately impressive; within a very short space of time biodiversity had increased; eleven species of bats now forage in the area along with seventeen dragonflies, ten new bird species and up to an eightfold increase in the size of trout. The quality of water has improved, with an eighty percent drop in nitrates from the top of the site to the bottom, as well as collecting about two hundred tonnes of sediment. 

Chris was so impressed with the effects beavers had, he became a founder member of the Beaver Trust, and now acts an an independent consultant. His talks are always interesting, and he’s very happy to have a frank and honest debate about the pros and cons of beaver reintroduction. Chris’s presentation at Hessenford Village Hall will be a chance to hear more and have your questions answered. Entry is free – just turn up on the door. 

Two days later on Thursday 27th April at Maker with Rame community hall in Kingsand, Merlin Hanbury Tenison will give a talk entitled Rainforests, rewilding and beasts on Bodmin Moor. Merlin will be talking about his ‘thousand-year’ project to triple the area of the UK’s rarest habitat – Atlantic temperate rainforest, starting with his own farm on Bodmin Moor. From the ‘wood-wide web’ fungal network to lost animals like beavers, carbon sequestration and mental health, Merlin’s talk will cover every aspect of this incredible lost eco-system. Tickets are £6 and available either from Spar on Fore Street, Kingsand, or on Eventbrite.

I’ll be going to both talks, so hope to see some of you there!   

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