The Ramsar Convention for the protection of wetlands came into force in 1975, the UK joined a year later and currently has 154 sites, 51 of which are in Scotland. According to the Convention we must look after these sites and work towards sustainable development by incorporating wetland conservation when planning land-use. In November 2016 the Scottish Government announced their intention to legally protect wild beavers living in Scotland. Today, on World Wetlands Day (February 2nd) we reflect on the ability of beavers to improve wetlands.
Beavers have long been touted as ecological engineers because they alter the landscape around them, primarily through tree-felling and dam building. Dam pools form behind beaver dams, slowing down the flow of water through river and stream systems. The biomass of aquatic plants was found to be 20 times higher in these pools when compared with unmodified streams in Eastern Scotland, retention of organic matter also increased in beaver modified habitat (Law, McLean & Willby, 2016). Analysis of published studies on the interaction between beavers and biodiversity showed beavers to have a positive influence on biodiversity overall. It is thought that an increase in habitat diversity and structural complexity can be attributed to the beavers creation of successional dam pools as well as lodges and dams (Stringer & Gaywood, 2016). This research also recommended that beaver reintroduction in Scotland could provide habitat for Otter, Water Vole and Great Crested Newt; all species of conservation concern.
The benefits mentioned above are provided for free by the presence of beavers (ecosystem services), to achieve these results otherwise we would have to spend money. Although the visible change in wetland habitat post-beaver modification can be startling and possibly alarming we think that beavers are a value for money solution in the improvement and creation of wetland habitats and that today they should be celebrated!
Stringer, A. P. Gaywood, M. J. (2016) The impacts of beavers Castor spp. on biodiversity and the ecological basis for their reintroduction to Scotland, UK. Mammal Review, 46: 4 pp 270-283
Law, A. McLean, F. Willby, N. J. (2016) Habitat engineering by beaver benefits aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem processes in agricultural streams. Freshwater Biology, 61: 4 pp 486-499