Why we should ‘Be More Beaver’
Charismatic mammals, reintroduced to the UK over the last decade after once being hunted for their fur, meat and scent glands – Eurasian beavers (Castor fibre) have taken the wildlife world by storm. This year, Springwatch viewers were treated to regular updates from the Cornwall Beaver Project, by presenter Gillian Burke, where we learnt more about these mammals than perhaps some of us had ever known before. The trials and reintroduction projects around England so far have been a success, with the River Otter Beaver Trial in Devon recently achieving a huge win for the beavers, as the Government has granted them indefinite freedom. As we look towards a future where beavers are (hopefully) welcome engineers of our riparian ecosystems, it’s interesting to look at what we can learn from these incredible animals!
Through their means of damming, digging canals and coppicing trees, beavers provide a variety of ecological benefits, all contributing to higher biodiversity in surrounding areas. By felling broad-leaved trees and bushes, such habitat modification encourages regrowth and regeneration of tree species, leading to higher species diversity. Natural management of vegetation and trees provides invertebrate and bird species with habitats, food sources and shelter, and therefore providing larger mammals with resources. Scientists predict we are heading towards the sixth mass extinction, with biodiversity loss imposing upon us more and more each year. Beavers, it would seem, can be part of the solution.
Humans can learn a lot about stewardship and environmental management from these mammals – what you put into the Earth, you get back out. Leaving the planet in a better state than we found it, both socially and environmentally, should be a goal universally shared, and by taking a leaf out of the beaver’s book, we can begin to emulate the same principles. Diversifying the landscape and doing all we can to support biodiversity, particularly that of our invertebrate friends, can only help to make our local patches more eco-friendly, and make those beavers proud.
Beavers, as crepuscular animals, sleep throughout daylight hours and come most alive at dawn and dusk – but also have been captured many times working through the night. Now, I’m not encouraging you to ditch working hours and bunk off school, but if we really want to be more beaver, then perhaps we need to think about harnessing the peace and quiet of the twilight hours and boosting our productivity while the rest of the world sleeps! Pulling an all-nighter isn’t the most appealing thought, unless you’re running on caffeine, yet why not make like a beaver and utilise night-time hours to get busy, finish off ongoing tasks or get to work cleaning your own den, every once in a while? And if your motivation levels don’t spike after an evening of blitzing through your to-do list… well, I’ll be damned!
One of the most incredibly unique things about beavers is that their teeth never stop growing! In order to avoid fashioning a style that favours that of the sabre-toothed tiger, beavers manage their teeth as they fell trees to create their dams, wearing them down and keeping them at a reasonable length. Perhaps the greatest adaptation of beaver teeth, however, is that the enamel of their teeth is impregnated with iron! It’s clear to see that beavers need to keep their teeth in excellent condition, and as humans we can definitely take inspiration from their top-notch dental habits. As a single beaver can fell up to 200 trees a year, perhaps we should work on remembering to use our own toothpicks as diligently as the beavers do…
Beavers are semi-aquatic mammals – they spend some of their time on land, and some in water. But what happens when they swim underneath the murky waters of UK wetlands and rivers, when they get their fur wet? Do they close their eyes tightly against the water, swimming blindly? Nope. These hardy animals have a special adaptation that gives them clear vision beneath the surface, in the form of extra eyelids, called nictitating membranes. The third set of eyelids is transparent, protecting their eyes whilst still allowing them to see properly. If that isn’t a good reminder to wear goggles while you swim, from one of nature’s finest creatures, I don’t know what is.
Beavers are wonderful, enchanting mammals who need our support in securing their place in British countryside once again. I hope that you feel inspired by their resilience and sorely feel the need to protect these animals from whom we can learn so much!*
(*This blog is written by an independent writer. Beaver Trust welcomes a breadth of opinions, and those expressed within this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Beaver Trust.)
#beavers #beaverbelievers #beavolution
Maddie is a 17-year-old-student, aspiring writer and passionate environmental enthusiast, who can usually be found ranting about HS2 and climate change, or with her nose stuck in a book.
© Madeline Stannard 2020.