Policymakers urged to consider use of beavers in river restorations

BEAVERS could help improve Scotland’s water quality and limit the effects of drought, a new report has revealed.

The study, carried out by the University of Aberdeen, revealed that the animal can play a positive role in water resource management, river restoration and carbon sequestration.

Researchers collated evidence from 120 studies of beaver populations worldwide, as part of a large-scale review of their effects on streams and rivers.

The university said that, despite their presence in areas such as Tayside and Knapdale, the role of beavers in helping to manage rivers in Scotland has been ‘minimal’.

However, it is hoped that the recent findings can help policymakers consider the benefits and limitations of beaver expansion in Scotland.

Dr Josie Geris, from the University of Aberdeen’s school of geosciences, led the study. She said, “We found that, by modifying physical processes in streams and rivers, beaver dam building could help to address several important water management challenges in Scotland, including water supply and, by trapping sediment and contaminants, water quality.

“Locally, beaver activity may also limit the effect of extreme events such as drought, which is expected to increase with climate change and can carry an economic impact – for example during the dry summer of 2018 when numerous private water supplies to communities and businesses were affected.

“Achieving the potential of the positive effects of beaver activity may involve some challenges and the need to find solutions. And while most of the evidence points to positive contributions to river ecosystems locally, the report recommends that more work is needed on understanding how the effects of beavers across multiple sites sum up to affect rivers at larger scales.”

Angus Tree from NatureScot added, “This is a significant study that clearly demonstrates the unique ways in which beavers engineer ecosystems. It backs up evidence we’ve gathered over the years and will help our work with stakeholders as we develop the best ways to live with, and benefit from, beavers.

“We are committed to continuing work to restore and manage beavers, as one important way to protect Scotland’s environment and respond to the climate emergency.”