Cows grazing in beaver enclosure, Cornwall Beaver Project.

‘This lovely weather’

Farmers are always moaning about the weather. It goes without saying that as one of the groups of people whose business is so utterly rooted in the natural world, this has to be a major factor in the everyday life of a farmer. And, farmers really do need a fairly even split between wet and dry weather, and wet, cool weather – and warm.

Hitherto in the South West, we have experienced a serious drought about once every 10 years or so. I remember 1976, 1985, 1995, 2005 all being like that, which always led to problems; in our case specifically about the amount of grass available to our animals for grazing and its preservation as hay or silage. People growing crops really suffered (or had a big win – fortunes were won and lost in the ’76 drought by potato farmers), during plenty of summers where rain prevailed. Naturally of course, there were years where weather might have been described as ‘average’.

Exeter University

‘Before beavers’: Cornwall Beaver Project 2016. University of Exeter.

So how does all this relate to beavers? When we commenced the Cornwall Beaver Project in 2014, our focus championed the ability of beavers in headwaters to reduce downstream flood risk. Spring 2014 saw the end of an incredibly wet and stormy two-year period, where our local village of Ladock flooded twice – and came extremely close to flooding twice more. Clearly with climate change, we are expecting stronger and more frequent storms, so preparing our little river valley to hold that water for a bit longer can only be a good thing. For a variety of reasons (mostly around funding) it became apparent that beavers would be the most cost effective (and least carbon emitting) method of achieving this. 

But, funny old thing. In the intervening years between conceiving the project in the spring of 2014 and getting the beavers in June 2017, rainfall was well below average – so much so, that drought is becoming familiar. This beckoned the ghastly drought of 2018, when we realised that our beavers had (in 12 months) created a reserve of water we could draw upon to irrigate a pasture. Gone was the need to invest in digging a pond… the beavers had done that for us. 2019’s summer was nowhere near as dry as 2018, but still below average. Come October, and normal service resumed, with rain falling it felt like everyday until March this year (overall in the UK the fifth wettest winter on record – with the wettest ever February).

Exeter University

‘After beavers’: Cornwall Beaver Project, 2018. University of Exeter.

Sure, statistics can be dull. But, the impression of a gradual drying is hard to miss – with barely a drop of rain on this farm in the last 12 weeks. These drier periods frighten me more than anything else, as climate change tightens its grip. ‘Too wet’ isn’t good, but over time, too dry is not survivable. When I hear people remarking on ‘this lovely weather’, I wonder if they really think about where their food actually comes from. In the face of this, the only chance we have is to adapt to the new normal as fast as we can. Beavers are surely an essential part of this process. Low cost, with multiple benefits for us and nature, they will happily increase surface water storage and recharge our aquifer batteries, helping us through these increasingly long dry spells.

All they need is consent from us, and to be left to bloody well get on with it.

Be a future farmer, be a beaver farmer

Contact us for support at info@beavertrust.org and visit www.beavertrust.org for more information and to arrange a trip to the Cornwall Beaver Project.

Chris Jones 

Chris Jones is a farmer and ecologist based in Mid Cornwall. He has been practically involved setting up and running the Cornwall Beaver Project with Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Exeter University since 2014.

#beavers #beaverbelievers #beavolution

Chris Jones sniffing a beaver chip

© Chris Jones 2020.