Re-introducing beavers to Dorset
Two beavers released onto an enclosed site in Dorset
Following years of preparation for their arrival, a pair of beavers (an adult male and female) were released into an enclosed site in west Dorset on 8 February 2021, having been relocated from Scotland under licence from NatureScot. The pair have settled well into their new home and it is a privilege to be able to study one of nature’s great engineering species, right here in our county.
Why beavers are important for Dorset
Beavers are often referred to as 'ecosystem engineers'. They make changes to their habitats, such as digging canal systems, damming water courses, and coppicing tree and shrub species, which create diverse wetlands that benefit both people and wildlife.
- They help to reduce downstream flooding - the channels, dams and wetland habitats that beavers create hold back water and release it more slowly after heavy rain
- They benefit other species, such as otters, water shrews, water voles, birds, invertebrates (especially dragonflies) and breeding fish
- They increase water retention and clean water
- They reduce siltation, which pollutes water
How long is the project going to run for?
The project licence is initially for five years (2020-2025).
What’s being studied at the site?
This is a scientific study site and in partnership with the University of Exeter and Wessex Water, we are gathering information on biodiversity and hydrology (water quality and flow) and studying the behaviour and activities of the beaves. We will be making comparisons to the baseline data gathered before they arrived to see how beavers can improve the habitat they occupy and the wider benefits they can potentially bring to the environment in terms of biodiversity, water quality and beneficial effects on river catchments.
Can I visit the Beaver Project site and see the beavers?
The site is a locked site with no parking or public access and will be accessible for accompanied visitors by invitation only. We are sharing footage and photographs of the beavers in our blog and on social media so you can stay up to date with how they are doing.
Did you know? Myth-busting facts
- Beavers are vegetarians. They do not eat fish. In fact, they are known to co-exist well with them, boosting fish populations. Beavers snack on riverside plants, grasses, as well as tree bark and shoots.
- Beavers feel safest in still, deep water (around 70cm). They are very unlikely to stray far from it and will create dams if the water levels aren’t what they would like them to be.
- Where beavers go – more wildlife will follow. Beavers create diverse wetland habitats that can provide a home for a wide range of wildlife such as amphibians, water voles, dragonflies, birds and even plants.
Beaver dams vary in size and structure. In many cases they are small temporary structures made of twigs, which gradually break down as water levels rise. In others, they can be larger stable structures that create big ponds. Both water and fish are able to move through and around them and they are not the huge dam structures made by the North American beaver.
Beavers can reduce flooding. Beaver dams slow the flow of water; in storms more water is stored; in droughts more water is available. The potential for beavers to reduce flooding and maintain baseflows downstream is significant.
Beavers can improve water quality. Impoundment of water behind dams can positively affect the quality of water by diffusing pollutants being transported downstream. Their dams act as sediment traps cleaning our waters.
This isn't just about the reintroduction of a species - it's about the reintroduction of an entire ecosystem that's been lost.