This month hosted a full moon, known as the Beaver Moon, which appears 30% brighter than usual. This impressive moon sparked our conversation regarding the integration of beavers into our future landscape.
Up until the 16th century the cold bright Beaver Moon may have provided the ultimate spotlight for people seeking out nocturnal animals to supply essential food and fur throughout the arduous winter (Plotner 2010). In Canada where temperatures plummet, it is thought that many Castor canadensis, the north American beaver, were killed at this time of the year in a rush to gather the pelts to make robust waterproof hats before temperatures dropped and water started to freeze (Heritage 2016).
In the UK the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) was also a much sort after supplier of thick fur, with over hunting, accompanied by the added incentive of a secretion from their castor glands used in apothecary, leading to its extinction in the UK around 1600 (Raye 2015).
Half a millennium after their extinction in the UK beavers are back! A licence issued to Devon Wildlife Trust by Natural England in 2015 permitted the managed release into the wild of beavers on a 5-year trial. This conservation milestone has been the subject of much debate, with conservationists confident that this ecological engineer will help to improve natural ecosystems and increase biodiversity for the benefit of wildlife and humans. Others have concerns that the reintroduction of beavers will cause unwanted damage and negatively affect land management due to their ability to manipulate the course and flow of waterways (Hood et al 2015).
This mysterious and unique mammal has been shown to encourage the integration of biodiversity into the architecture of their dams, providing a natural conservation tool to reorient and enrich whole ecosystems. They are a increasingly proving to be a keystone species in the promotion of low cost or free ecosystem services that could address the concerns associated with climate change and flooding.
Whilst beavers have been reintroduced to a small number of locations in England, a project in Kent is currently underway with the aim of demonstrating the effectiveness of beavers as habitat and conservation managers. Eurasian beavers have been introduced to Ham Fen nature reserve as part of the Fenland Management Project to improve areas of wetland. The beavers are harvesting trees and plants to build dams, raising water levels and improving the wetland habitat in this area for other species, including rare migratory birds that use this area every year to winter or breed.
Since beavers and humans appear to be working well together in the rest of Europe, the potential for a future beaver reintroduction to Kent could prove an exciting way forward in bringing Kent landscapes to life and encouraging declining or rare species to thrive. However, as with any controversial re-wilding reintroduction (Carey 2016), only time and research will tell, with Natural England set to decide the future of this species in the England in 2020.
Bartel, R.A., Haddad, N.M. and Wright, J.P., 2010. Ecosystem engineers maintain a rare species of butterfly and increase plant diversity. Oikos, 119(5), pp.883-890.
Burdock, G.A., 2007. Safety assessment of castoreum extract as a food ingredient. International journal of toxicology, 26(1), pp.51-55.
Carey, J., 2016. Core concept: rewilding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(4), pp.806-808.
Gibbon, D., 2015. Flooding in buildings. Journal of Building Survey, Appraisal & Valuation, 4(1), pp.10-15.
Heritage, C., 2016. Official symbols of Canada.
Hood, G.A. and Larson, D.G., 2015. Ecological engineering and aquatic connectivity: a new perspective from beaver‐modified wetlands. Freshwater Biology, 60(1), pp.198-208.
Plotner, T., 2010. Lunar Day Fourteen. In Moonwalk with Your Eyes (pp. 171-181). Springer US.
Raye, L., 2015. The early extinction date of the beaver (Castor fiber) in Britain. Historical Biology, 27(8), pp.1029-1041.
Smith, J.M. and Mather, M.E., 2013. Beaver dams maintain fish biodiversity by increasing habitat heterogeneity throughout a low‐gradient stream network. Freshwater Biology, 58(7), pp.1523-1538.