So I went slightly crazy this week, and the good people of the Twitterverse diagnosed me with BEAVER FEVER. Not the tummy rumbles kind, though; the fun and adorable kind (see below)!
Indeed, the first wild beaver spotted in England in 500+ years was seen this week, skulking around a Devon farm in the town of Ottery St. Mary (it has since been suggested the name change to Beavery St. Mary).
This is thrilling on several fronts. First of all, beavers are a delight.
Second, they’re a critical part of healthy riparian ecosystems in their native habitats, and they act as ecosystem engineers (a term that’s a tad overused, but useful in casu), making major modification to the water dynamics of riverine systems and thus impacting the flora, fauna, and fluvia (?) around them.
Third, we (and by ‘we,’ I mean ‘other scientists, but I wholeheartedly support them and cheer them on from a distance and via twitter’) have been working hard to get beavers reintroduced to the United Kingdom for about 15 years. A trial run was begun in Scotland in 2009, but ideas of expansion have met with some opposition.
So having a real, live, wild beaver roaming around the English countryside is not only a fascinating natural experiment, but it’s also an opportunity for wildlifers to show the general public that they have little to fear from these industrious animals.
A Little Further Reading:
Andersen, Douglas C., and Patrick B. Shafroth. “Beaver dams, hydrological thresholds, and controlled floods as a management tool in a desert riverine ecosystem, Bill Williams River, Arizona.” Ecohydrology 3.3 (2010): 325-338.
Smith, Michael E., et al. “Modification of stream ecosystem structure and function by beaver (Castor canadensis) in the Adirondack Mountains, New York.” Canadian Journal of Zoology 69.1 (1991): 55-61.