🌍 Nature's Climate Change Warrior #21
The surprising role of beavers in mitigating climate change
It’s been a bit more than 6 months since I released the last ‘tings but I am finally back. I could try and come up with some excuse to justify not publishing anything, but I really don’t have an explanation besides the fact that I didn’t feel like it. And, so, a month long summer break from writing turned into 6 😅
But hey, at least now I can help you deal with the winter blues by writing your favorite newsletter again 😜
I don’t think I will go back to publishing a ‘tings edition every other week like I used to, but hope to land in your inbox once a month. I hope you enjoy this first edition, back from my hiatus, where we are discovering the surprising role of beavers in mitigating climate change.
If I would ask you to think of a few animals in the context of climate change, you would probably think of polar bears, pandas, or turtles right? Yet, there is a lesser-known creature that has the potential to have a big impact on our environment: the beaver.
The beaver, the largest rodent in the northern hemisphere was once widespread across Europe and North America. The landscape was dotted with thousands of beaver dams and wetlands. But, of course, as soon as we discovered that beaver fur and their musk scented secretions could be sold for profit, we hunted the beaver to near extinction. By the 16th century the beaver was extinct in Britain and by 1900 just 1,200 beavers remained across Eurasia. Beavers are slowly starting to make a comeback thanks to reintroduction campaigns across Europe and they have even received legal protection Scotland and England, making it illegal to disturb their breeding grounds.
You might be wondering, why should we care so much about beavers? They are incredibly effective at creating, restoring and managing wetland ecosystems, the most carbon dense of any terrestrial ecosystems. To put their carbon storage into context, despite wetlands only covering 3% of the world’s land surface they store more carbon than all other vegetation types combined, including the world’s forests which cover around 31% of total land area. The destruction of wetlands has such an immense greenhouse gas impact, that annually the destruction of peatland, a type of wetland with a large accumulation of partially decomposed organic matter, contributes towards 5% of global emissions.
Beaver wetlands do not only benefit the environment by storing vast amounts of carbon they also improve the resilience of local areas against extreme weather events, which we know are becoming all too common. The wetlands created by our dam-building rodent friends act as a sort of water sponge. The dams slow down the flow of water creating vast wetlands, allowing water to be absorbed into the surrounding landscape and recharging groundwater. In cases of extreme rain these wetlands are able to absorb much more water than an equivalent dry area, reducing the risk or at least severity of downstream flooding. Scientists from the University of Exeter found that beavers managed to reduce the peak flow of floodwater through the flood-prone village of East Budleigh by constructing six dams upstream of the village. Pretty nifty considering this was achieved by just a single beaver family that managed to escape captivity. Beaver wetlands don’t just help us cope with flood events but also provide much needed water in times of drought and even protect against wildfires. During wildfires across the western USA, vegetation loss in beaver habitats was found to be approximately three times smaller than in areas without beavers.
You might now think, why don’t we just build dams! The easy answer is that we just suck at building dams compared to beavers. Human dams, even the ones with fish ladders, typically block fish passage while the dams built by beavers don’t. Beaver dams also allow for greater biodiversity by creating wild floodplains and they even filter out pollutants like manure, slurry, and fertilizer. So, let’s leave the dam building to the experts.
It is worthing noting though, that beaver reintroduction can also have negative consequences if not properly managed. If beavers build dams directly downstream of farms or settlements the flooding can cause damage to livelihoods and properties. But, with proper management and planning the benefits of reintroducing beavers far outweigh potential downsides. Restoring wetlands will be a monumental task that requires extensive funding, so why not work together with beavers, after all they do it for free and don’t charge any monthly fee for maintenance.
Beavers may be small, but they pack a big punch when it comes to combating climate change. By slowing the flow of water, increasing water availability, storing carbon and increasing biodiversity, these furry little creatures can play a vital role in saving our planet.
I hope you enjoyed this brief exploration of Beavers, nature’s climate change warriors.
Let me know if you enjoyed it by voting down below 😊
Until next time, much love,
Pascal Vilhelmsson 🖤
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