Credit: Elliot McCandless

Individual Climate Action and the Power of Supporting Beavers

Beaver Trust’s Fundraising Coordinator, Jolene Macnaughton, reflects on her motivations for working with beavers, how you can do more to support them directly and just how valuable that support is in helping tackle the climate emergency & biodiversity crisis.
If you were in the UK last summer, surely you won’t forget the feeling of walking outside into 40-degree heat. The strange intensity and dryness of that heat was made worse by the knowledge that it wasn’t normal.  The UK simply shouldn’t be that hot. Data from the Met Office shows that the ten hottest years since 1884 have all happened since 2002. The latest of the ten coldest years was in 1963. The world is heating up and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is clear that human activity is to blame. Yet, six months after that heatwave, I still see the cars on the busy road near my house, their fumes pouring out into the atmosphere. It’s very worrying.
Most likely, the concept of ‘eco-anxiety‘ isn’t new to you. A 2021 article from the British Medical Journal said, “Eco-anxiety is growing, and refers to the chronic fear of environmental doom”. So if, like me, you’re feeling that anxiety, what can be done to relieve it? The general answer seems to be: take action. Channel that unease into practical and positive steps that improve our environment.  In our anxiety, it’s easy to think ‘I’m just one person, what difference can I actually make’. As Beaver Trust’s Fundraising Coordinator, I care about finding ways to encourage effective action for nature. Let me tell you how you can make a difference.


Beaver dam and wetland (credit: Elliot McCandless)

The Beaver Effect

Otherwise known as ‘the ripple effect’. As a keystone species, beavers have a huge impact on their environment. Through dams, ponds and canals, they restore the wetlands and complex river systems that provide habitat for a huge range of wildlife. For example, beavers’ tree coppicing stimulates plant growth. This attracts insects which in turn provide a food source for amphibians, birds and small mammals. Beaver ponds are cool and often deep, perfect for juvenile fish, and the shallow, gravel beds in braided channels within beaver wetlands offer a vital habitat for spawning fish, such as salmon and trout. Bats, otters, water voles, reptiles and birds are just some examples of the wildlife that benefit from the mosaic of slower-flowing water and diverse habitats. Research has shown that beaver ponds may host 50% more unique species than other wetlands and that beaver-engineered habitats increase the abundance of certain bird species up to 80 metres away.

Our individual actions can be as impactful as those of the beaver. Talking about our own climate-friendly and sustainable behaviours encourages, educates and inspires others.  Already, 126 people have signed up for the Big Green Hike this year. They’re collecting sponsorship and telling their friends and family about the environmental causes close to their heart. Think of all those social media posts, all those conversations. Who knows where those ripples will lead. More often than not, nobody will know. But, in those moments where the state of nature feels overwhelming, trust in the beaver effect and know that you’re making a difference.
Beaver release at Loch Lomond, 2023 (credit: Elliot McCandless)

Individual action is collective, and collective action is individual

The thing is, you’re not really taking action by yourself. It sounds like I’m cheating here but by definition, collective action can only ever be the accumulation of lots of individual choices and activities. All our actions feed into each other and if we want to make a difference we have to contribute to the total. As a fundraiser, my default activity is donating to environmental charities working on the ground, and I’m lucky to be able to do that. As a fundraiser for Beaver Trust, I’m obviously going to suggest making a donation towards restoring beavers to regenerate our landscapes.  We’re not a membership organisation and our generous supporters make one-off and monthly donations. Last year, donations of £100 or less made up 61% of the total amount donated through our website. The whole total means that we can do more to restore beavers to Britain. Every single one of those donors is valued and enables our work.

Restoration Coordinator, Rob Needham, electrofishing in a Scottish river catchment which has beavers (credit: Elliot McCandless)

“I made a difference to that one”

Have you heard the story about the boy throwing starfish back into the sea? There were hundreds of them washed up on the shore and he was picking them up one by one to return them to the water. He was approached by someone who said: “What’s the point? There are hundreds of starfish; you can’t make a difference”. The boy threw the next starfish and replied: “I made a difference to that one”. At Beaver Trust, we have just three of our colleagues living in Scotland, where the wild beaver population is growing. Sometimes those beavers are in conflict with landowners and at risk of lethal control; each time one of my colleagues moves a beaver from a site where it’s causing a problem to a site where it’s welcome, it makes a difference to that one.

It’s natural to see the damage we’re doing to the planet and feel anxious about the future. But we can turn that anxiety into motivation and take action for the climate and biodiversity. I believe that beavers are a great place to start using that motivation. When it comes to funding nature restoration, there is no greater value for money, and return on investment. You might donate, you might hike, you might do something else entirely. But whatever you do, know that you’re joining a collective. Trust in the ripples you’re making. Think of a single animal and know you’re making a difference to that one.
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