Beavers are being reintroduced to the Nene Wetlands for the first time in four centuries.
As part of a wider reintroduction effort of beavers throughout the UK, beavers are being reintroduced to the Nene Wetlands in Northamptonshire, the first time beavers will be seen in the area in 400 years.
Why is This Important?
Many different species of plants and animals make up any collective ecosystem worldwide. While all make up the whole and play their important role, some species have a more fundamental role.
With the removal of these specific species, the whole ecosystem begins to fall apart. These positions within the ecosystem are called keystone species, given their immense importance to the ecosystem more than others.
The Eurasian Beaver is one of these keystone species and is incredibly important for maintaining areas like the Nene Wetlands, providing habitats for other species of animals, and through their dams, preventing soil eroded from farms from going to the ocean.
However, despite their importance, beavers had been hunted to near extinction in Europe, with some local areas experiencing the actual extinction of these charismatic rodents. One of these areas is the UK, having hunted them to extinction 400 years ago.
However, in recent years, the reintroduction of these small mammals has been of critical importance due to their positive impact on their environment. This year, it has been announced that a population of beavers will be reintroduced into the Nene Wetlands in Northamptonshire.
What Makes Beavers So Special?
Beavers play an important role in wetland ecosystems in four main ways: the reduction of flooding, the lessening of impacts of drought, the maintenance and creation of habitats, and the improvement of water quality.
Flooding has been a major issue in the UK because when it rains, it pours. When degraded land takes on a large amount of water at a very rapid rate, that water spills out into neighboring communities and towns, causing buildings and infrastructure to be damaged.
However, with a network of beaver dams, areas like the Nene Wetlands will be protected due to the large amount of water beaver-created canals and ponds can hold. These watercourses also sublimate water into the soil nearby, creating wetlands much more capable of holding water. River Otter Beaver Trial findings show that beavers reduced flood flows by up to 60%.
On the flip side, these wetlands that the beavers create also mitigate the effects of drought due to the water held in by the wetlands. During dry seasons, this water is slowly released into the neighboring farmlands reducing the impact on the crops.
As for their habitats, beavers and their dams have been shown to create habitats of ponds, deadwood, meadows, and wetlands, contributing to a large increase in the numbers of different species, variety, and rarity. Some species occupying beaver habitats are dragonflies, brown trout, salmon, bats, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Another main way that beaver populations benefit the wider ecosystem they inhabit is by the increase in water quality. Due to nitrate and sediment filtration created by the dams, these watercourses contribute to the overall increase in water quality in rivers and streams. They also contain these poor quality sediments and nitrates in the ponds and canals created.
What Does the Nene Wetlands Plan Entail?
While bans on hunting have halted the destruction of beaver populations in the UK, the population numbers are still quite low. This is why the Wildlife Trust has acquired a license to reintroduce beavers in the Nene Wetlands.
The plan is, as of right now, to reintroduce an unspecified number of beavers to the Nene Wetlands through the winter of 2024-2025. They will be fenced into their habitat to prevent nuisance to neighboring areas.
Signs will also be erected, providing information on the beavers, their importance, and what the regulations stipulate regarding their protected status.
Bringing back the beavers in Northamptonshire is a critical goal in bringing back the natural world in the UK and is part of a wider effort to reintroduce beavers throughout the country. Within our lifetime, we will likely see a complete shift in the landscape due to the beavers, and for the first time in four centuries.