Wild swimming with beavers
Alongside my two brothers, Robbie and Jack, I have been embarking on watery adventures as the self-proclaimed Wild Swimming Brothers (named after our Grandma Wild and mum, Tina Wild – real maiden name we promise!). Through our swimming expeditions we have been lucky enough to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines, sea eagles in the Arctic Circle, black-tip reef sharks in Malaysia, and sea lions in California. We’ve also swum in places where great white sharks, Orinoco crocodiles, and orcas cruise the underwater world. But it is another, perhaps surprising, animal that we have always wanted to swim with… the beaver!
The thought of wild swimming with beavers conjures up a magical and untouchable experience. It forces my mind to reach back into a primordial and bygone past where countless wild animals freely roamed the UK countryside. Deep within the distant depths of my subconscious, an ancient relative strolls through the verdant countryside and rubs shoulders with animals of another time. The wisent, Eurasian wolf, wild boar, Eurasian lynx, and even the brown bear. All of these animals shared the forests and plains with our ancestors all over the UK but have since been driven to extinction by overpopulation, and habitat destruction. But it is another ancient animal that has truly captured the imagination of myself and people all over the UK…. the beaver.
The beaver to me is the greatest icon of the aquatic world. It is not only the master of its habitat but seems to live in a world of its own, constantly felling trees, building dams, and influencing its environment like no other animal. Like Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings, the beaver is often overlooked and underestimated in favour of more dramatic or show-stopping species. But beavers play an absolutely crucial role in our natural ecosystems and are a true keystone species. They help define their entire ecosystem and we have experienced the negative effects of not having them as part of our natural ecosystems within the UK.
When we first heard of beavers being released in the River Otter in Devon, it set off a cascade of imagination. That this fascinating creature might be wandering the waterways of the UK was a truly beautiful thought. The notion that we could dive into a river, feel the cold rush of water against our cheeks and surface for a breath of fresh air only to glimpse a brown shape on a distant bank. That we might swim upstream, keeping our stroke smooth and our breathing shallow so as not to disturb this mysterious riverside critter. Pulling closer, crocodile eyes just hovering above the surface, we could peer into the reeds hoping to catch sight of this elusive animal. As we held our breath the reeds might part and out would stroll a beaver, nose curiously sniffing the air, bright orange gnashers held high and its large paddle-shaped tail bobbing in its wake. There is no feeling that beats seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat for the first time and that right now, here in the UK, we might be able to see a beaver out for its morning riverside stroll is a truly magnificent feeling.
In these days of lockdown and Covid-19, the tethers that bind us to the natural world seem even more important than normal. The cries of a starling that interrupt a morning coffee in the garden, the searching eyes of a fox spotted while out for an afternoon stroll, or even the fluttering wings of a darting bat during an evening yoga session. These ties to the natural world and the animals with which we share our lives have taken on even greater importance during our societal cocooning. We can’t wait to emerge from the chrysalis of our times and dive into the cool embrace of a river, swimming with the current and searching the riverbanks to catch a glimpse of a wandering beaver.
Calum Hudson Beaver Believer
Calum Hudson (30), the middle brother of the Wild Swimming Brothers – the modern-day Gandalf who led the other two from sequestered lives in Hobbit comfort to a 90-mile swim down the River Eden and countless adventures beyond.
#beavers #beaverbelievers #beavolution
© Calum Hudson 2020.