Lonely Planet Writer

Beavers may provide solution to UK flooding problems

Evidence shows that the reintroduction of beavers after a 400 year absence might be the unlikely solution to the UK’s flooding problems.

Beavers will be allowed to live s on the River Otter, Devon
Beavers will be allowed to live s on the River Otter, Devon Image by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

While the British government is set to spend up to £3.2 billion on flood management after the impact of the devastating floods that affected Cumbria and other regions in December of last year. There have been calls to institute better flood defences and first-response systems. But in Devon, a local initiative has sought to focus on prevention of floods rather than management, and it’s here that the beavers are to be found.

The beavers were reintroduced to three hectares of the area that makes up the Okehampton countryside five years ago. In that time the rodents have managed to increase water capacity along the whole river and evened out the water flow by setting up 13 new dams across 150 metres.

Their success in the region is being implemented into The Devon Project, a project that seeks to work on “water storage, flood attenuation and water quality” according to the Guardian. Those in charge of the project believe that the beavers have had a great impact on the region, and are hoping it maybe a model that could be repeated across the UK.

Devonshire farmlands.
Devonshire farmlands. Image by Jenny Brown / CC BY 2.0

Aside from the positive effects the beavers have had on preventing flooding, they’ve also promoted the biodiversity of the area. The beavers were initially released into the Otter River as part of the beaver project run by Mark Elliott for the Devon Wildlife Trust. The reintroduction of beavers had already happened in Scotland.  “We obtained a five-year licence and trial to release beavers from [conservation bod] Natural England,” Elliott told the Guardian. “We were interested to see what they would do with the encroaching scrub. It’s hard for farmers to manage. What we should see is landowners getting a payment for storing water on their land, to go alongside the stewardship schemes for wildlife.”

A man rides his bike down through flood water in Eldridge Street, Carlisle.
A man rides his bike down through flood water in Eldridge Street, Carlisle. Image by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Beavers were hunted into extinction 400 years ago, hence their reintroduction into largely man-controlled agricultural and wild areas has been both novel and controversial.

The hope remains that the presence of beavers is proven to be extremely helpful as a flood prevention method, but there is sure to be some opposition to their protected reintroduction, as already farmers around the Otter River have complained of the visitors that visit the site, as the beavers have drawn tourists and travellers alike.