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Could beavers really solve our flooding crisis?

11 February 2014

All this talk about dredging is well and good; but could the humble beaver in fact be the solution to the nation’s floods? Well, as far as the Mammal Society are concerned, yes.

The animal has been extinct in the UK since the sixteenth century, but in recent years people have been pushing for its reintroduction. There are already two separate wild beaver colonies in Scotland, which have elicited a mixture of good and bad reactions from locals. But could they really help with the flooding?

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The Mammal Society’s argument is that beavers – ‘the master river engineer’ – create ‘impoundments’ with their damming, which help to keep water upland by holding it back in ponds and small streams. As well as slowing down the flow of water into larger rivers, this also forces the ground to retain more water, creating more wetlands.

So yes, beavers might help to slow water flow – but it’s hard to see that they would have prevented the floods entirely. And their presence isn’t always beneficial when it comes to flood prevention, either. Beavers were reintroduced to Estonia in the ‘50s; but over a thousand were culled in 2006 when they caused flooding in forests, where excess water had gathered as a result of their damming. They were also blamed for blocking drainage canals – something Somerset could do without.

Perhaps reintroducing the beaver isn’t the simple solution that the Mammal Society make it out to be. And, even if it could help in the long term, I suspect that flood victims want money spent on removing excess water and fixing damage, rather than on imported Norwegian beavers.

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  • Dodgy Geezer

    It’s absolutely standard practice in water engineering to maintain dams partially empty at the head of a river to control the flow and alleviate flooding. Why get beavers to do it? It’s already regularly done by civil engineers.

    So, you ask, why the flooding on the Severn?

    Well, a little-known directive from the EU requires us to save water. To cut back consumption per capita by 20%, in fact. Due to the expected water shortage caused by climate change. Successive UK governments have simply handled this by banning reservoir construction. The South-East, for instance, is very short on water storage, and 8 reservoir proposals have been made over the last 10 years. All have been halted by government intervention.

    Faced with water shortages, the water companies have taken to using flood-control reservoirs (which are normally left half-empty) as potable water store (which is normally filled as full as possible. Then, when the floods come, there’s no spare storage. Look at the hydrological data on Llyn Clywedog …

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Well. That is certainly a game changer, if true. And it better not be true, for LibLabCon’s sake. As you mention, historical review of the hydraulics and hydrology at the several locations would tell the story.

  • gerontius

    “Could beavers really solve our flooding crisis?”

    I’m sure that our American cousins would find this headline hugely amusing (or shocking – depending on taste)

    • hesychast

      North American beavers are a distinct species – bigger and more likely to cause damage.

      • gerontius

        So I have been told, though my personal experience is limited to old copies of Playboy.

      • Sovereign Man

        Most of the beavers I have seen here in Canada lately have been hairless. Some kind of odd fad in rodent fashion I suppose. What’s the fur situation on your side of the pond?

        • Hexhamgeezer

          I believe the youthful ones prefer to be neatly trimmed so as to glide though the water better, with the elders preferring more copious coats to guard against the winter chill.

    • Sovereign Man

      Being from Canada, I love beaver. Especially when I can cause a flooding crisis. Drought of the canal is a common enemy of men-kind.

      On the other hand, the rodents are destructive little bastards who have been known to drop giant trees on unsuspecting passersby. The chew up everything, to the point that we have been forced to wrap trees on riverbanks with chicken wire four feet up. If not, they block up the waterways with their damn dams, and cause erosion of the riverbanks which the trees help prevent.

      Letting in the little brown buggers is a door you don not want to open. Once you do, the nutters say “ooooh they’re harmless and have as much right to be here as us.” I’m sure you Brits are familiar with such an issue.

    • MikeF

      I have to admit that when I saw that headline my first thought was: “No but they can take your mind off it.”

      • gerontius

        My old college bar was called “The Beaver’s Retreat”
        I was still an innocent youngster when an American girl who I was trying to pick up asked me why on earth it was called that and I said “Because of the pictures on the wall. Why don’t you come and look? We can stay for a drink” She declined.

  • Two Bob


  • rtj1211

    As always, there will be places where this may be suitable and other places where it won’t be.

    One size fits all is the usual nonsense of the idiot savants.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Well, I for one support beaver as a solution for most any type of problem. I’m not quite sure if it would help re the flooding, but why not plunge ahead and give it a try? Tojours l’audace. An excellent suggestion, Camilla.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Laying beavers stuffed with sand across our doorways would help.

    • AndrewMelville

      Exactly. But cut off their tails first – preferably with a blunt kirpan – and fry them with sugared cinnamon. Big delicacy in Canuckville – except they use batter instead of the original tails.

      Seriously the only way to stop the flooding with create dams with the bodies of Quangos staffers, blocking the chinks with torn up policy papers. Fortunately we have an unlimited supply of both and no other use for them.

  • Jack Crutcher

    Beavers will be reintroduced in England, only a matter of time. But certainly not in Somerset. Cornwall and Devon, and then the more heavily wooded northern counties like Cumbria and Northumberland will be the prime locations for reintroduction I would imagine.

  • 2trueblue

    There are not too many forests on the Somerset levels for the beavers to use, and the major rivers are largely canals, and the other watercourses are mostly man made. Not the best habitat for beavers.

  • In2minds

    Do Beavers have to follow EU directives?

  • Daniel Maris

    Doesn’t sound v. convincing (even though I am all for reintroducing species that formerly graced our land). Surely if they impound x tonnes of water, they do so even in times of average rainfall…excessive rainfall will just run over the dams, or – more likely perhaps – break them.

    • AndrewMelville

      There was a plan to reintroduce the Inglish into some British cities. There was a small colony of Breeding stock they identified in the Scottish Borders and a few pockets in the Hebrides. I believe the project stalled because of budgetary issues. The available funding was transferred to the University of Durham’s Office of Transgender Issues and Sharia Implications from Bede’s Chronicles. But I might be mistaken.

  • saffrin

    The Mammal Society, full of lefty tw*t morons obviously.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Why? What have you got against beavers? They have a strong work ethic. We could replace our underclass with beavers..

      • Andy

        Beavers would be Conservative voters. They work too hard to be bleedin Socialist.

    • PHure1958

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    • Hexhamgeezer

      Aye – it’s a misprint. Should be The Mammary Society. A bunch of t!ts

      • Fred_Z

        The Audubon Society. They watch t!ts with binoculars. Then take notes.

  • HookesLaw

    Do beavers prevent it raining? Whilst we concentrate on those that are being flooded there have been in the past under both govts millions and millions of pounds spent on various flood prevention schemes.

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