An interview with the Beaver Trust: the reintroduction of beavers into Britain’s countryside
George Edwards interviews Sophie Pavelle from the Beaver Trust about the importance of the reintroduction of the beaver into the British Countryside .
Beavers are being reintroduced into Britain’s countryside, but why are they so important?
Beaver Trust is a British-based charity focused on the restoration of nature and reintroduction of a keystone species, the beaver, back into the UK. Beavers were once native to the British Isles and supported and shaped the ecosystems and land that we know today. Yet they were hunted to extinction for their fur and salicylic acid glands (this chemical was believed to be a medicine cure-all at the time). Now, once again, beavers are returning to the wilds of the UK, and bringing with them benefits to our fragile ecosystems. Beavers build dams which help cleanse the river water by filtering out pollutants, holding back carbon-containing silt, reducing flooding by slowing down the flow of water, providing nurseries for small animals, and creating so-called ‘beaver ponds’ that could help reduce incidences of drought. Apart from these environmental benefits, beavers can provide benefits to human health and mental health (spending time in nature improves people’s mindsets and health), education by offering opportunities to enhance learning about nature and the key roles played by beavers and ability to co-exist with nature.
Beaver Trust was founded back in 2019, pre-COVID, in response to the climate and biodiversity crises. It began as a start-up from entrepreneurs with a passion for the environment and nature restoration. The beaver was chosen as an icon for change and a symbol of the mission to drive ecosystem resilience. Last year, in 2020, the Trust launched ‘Beavers Without Borders’, which has brought further awareness to the work of the Trust.
I interviewed Sophie Pavelle, the Communications Coordinator at the Trust, to find out more about the role of beavers and the Trust in restoring nature in the UK.
So, of all the species the Trust could have focused on, why was the beaver chosen?
Beavers are charismatic and a fascinating ambassador for the Trust. They are a keystone species for ecosystem resilience and support, and their dams and ponds help shape the landscape and provide ecosystem services that can boost the resilience of the ecosystem and boost human wellbeing.
What are the main roles of the Trust?
One key role of the Trust is working as a convenor. We convened the National Beaver Strategy for England last year, along with organising and convening conversations on policy and workshops for the National Beaver Consultation. We aim to restore beavers to Britain’s rivers and are responsible for the beaver releases across the UK. Another of our roles is ensuring we can help people live alongside beavers again by developing, spreading awareness of mitigation techniques so people and beavers can coexist, alongside educating the public about the roles and importance of beavers in our ecosystems.
What sort of projects has the Trust been involved in or funded?
Recently, we have worked alongside the Derbyshire and Nottingham Wildlife Trusts to facilitate the return of beavers to enclosures and rivers in these regions. Our most recent project has been focused on education and communications. We have a podcast, The LodgeCast, which is about to begin Season 3 along with our documentary ‘Beavers Without Borders’, and a new documentary, ‘On The Edge’ which is being released this April.
Have there been any hurdles in reintroduction. If so, what are they?
Yes, there have. People are resistant to change, and the beaver represents change to ecosystems, policy, livelihoods and knowledge, so it’s a steep learning curve in having challenging, but vital conversations about how we can help people live alongside beavers again. For beavers to be reintroduced successfully, and in order for landowners to feel supported by the changes beavers bring, this must be reflected in policy – which is a lengthy and complex process. We are working to gain the support of the nation in the reintroduction of beavers. Funding is also a hurdle, more immediate than others, especially during COVID when most charity funding was focused on finding a vaccine and supporting people through the pandemic.
Are there any other species that could be reintroduced into the UK?
The UK was once a very diverse nation, with a wide range of species from wolves and bears to deer. Britain had a wide range of predators that have since been lost and reintroduction of new species to replace these missing keystone species is necessary. There is already a programme reintroducing the Iberian Lynx into Scotland, but more work should be focused on introducing red deer, birds of prey, water voles and other previously endemic species.
Finally, how can people get involved with and support the charity?
You can sign up to our free newsletter which gives the latest on beavers and policy. We, of course, have our podcast and documentary and any support to our social media (@beavertrust) would help us reach more people. You could also visit our website and ‘Join the Beavolution’ to stay up to date on our work and support the charity’s work. You can also make a donation directly to the charity or fundraise for us.
Beaver Trust is the UK’s first charity focused on reintroduction of beavers and the restoration of nature as a consequence. Small charities like Beaver Trust can make a big difference to the future of our environment and preservation of key ecosystems on our doorsteps. Why not find out more by watching the ‘Beavers Without Borders’ documentary on YouTube and listen to The LodgeCast on Apple podcasts, Spotify and other podcast sites. And let’s hope that the reintroduction of beavers is a success, and that these other animals can be reintroduced across the British Isles to improve the biodiversity of our landscape for future generations.