Beaver Blog

Beaver Blog

Hazel Ormrod

Beavers have been back in Dorset for over a year and we are learning about their habits now that they have experienced a full cycle of Dorset's seasons. Steve Oliver reports on what they've been eating.

What do beavers eat?

Although beavers are strictly herbivores, their diet of vegetation is still incredibly varied with many different plants being consumed through the year. Beavers are famous for felling trees (they have four sharp, permanently growing incisors to help with this) not only for building dams but also to feed on. During the spring and summer however, up to 90% of their diet consists of the many herbaceous plants growing next to a waterbody, as well as the aquatic vegetation within. As this green and lush vegetation dies back during the autumn and winter months, beavers turn their attention  towards feeding on trees, with willow being a particular favourite. Willow trees thrive in wet habitat and have evolved hand in hand with beavers over time - it is very much the tree of choice at our project site, and most of their foraging and feeding has so far occurred within five metres of the water which is very typical beaver behaviour. 

When a beaver is feeding on a tree, any leaves and small shoots are eaten whole, but bigger branches and trunks are just stripped of their bark/cambium layer (the ‘living and growing’ part of the tree), with the heartwood discarded as waste material which in turn, is great for invertebrates. At the water's edge, we find signs of animals feeding on plants such as remains of common reed displaying the trademark 45 degree angled cut, a sure sign that the beavers have been feeding here.

A significant amount of the biodiversity generated by these influential semi-aquatic rodents is brought on by the fact that they are just out there eating things, suppressing otherwise dominant species of plant and allowing many others to coexist alongside!   

A quirky fact to finish on...

Beavers practice something known as caecotrophy. This is where they produce special green faeces which they then ingest, and is a fascinating digestive strategy by which they can gain extra nutrients from some of the nutrient poor food (i.e. trees) they are consuming. A so-called second bite of the cherry - BON APPETIT!