With flooding becoming more and more of an issue in the UK the quest for cost effective prevention methods is also moving quickly in an effort to keep up. Potential flooding plays a major role in almost all new building planning because the likelihood of it happening more in the future is so strong. Companies like www.unda.co.uk are testament to this as them and many others exist almost solely to provide flood risk assessments for planning. It is clear there is a huge industry around flooding because it is simply something that is not going to go away. While most solutions include physical barriers, land management and drainage changes and other man made options it seems now animals may be able to help too.
As a result of a great deal of consultation the Forestry Commission plan to release a family of beavers into an enclosure at Lybrook in Gloucestershire in 2018. The group will be made up of 2 adults and 2 young animals known as kits. The area will be around 6.5 hectares and this introduction will certainly be the first of it’s kind on government land.
This plan was finally agreed in December 2017 when the Environment Minister Michael Gove signed off and set it in motion with the aim to reduce flooding downstream but to also increase biodiversity. The exact location of the release will be Greatthough Brook.
These plans have been approved by Natural England, and they will see the beavers being introduced into a fenced area to keep the animals secure; this is aimed to keep the animals healthy, disease-free and also to enable researchers to collect data about the water flow in the brook itself.
The village of Lydbrook suffered some severe flooding in 2012 when around 4ft of water covered the town so it makes a perfect place for this trial. The aim is that the beaver start creating dams and resulting pools and canals that will hold back around 6000 cubic metres of water and prevent flooding reaching the town in periods of high rainfall. The damns will act like a sponge which will release storm water much slower than it normally flows thus giving it time to dissipate naturally along the water course. The reason the animals will start building right away is that they like to live in deep water and the area is currently quite shallow. The beaver will soon set about creating their preferred habitat which should benefit the village the next time the location sees very high rainfall.
Beavers have actually already been trialled in a number of privately owned locations across the UK including Devon and Scotland.
Derek Gow, is a well known a beaver and water vole expert and he has worked on some of these recent trials. He was quoted as sayings water takes around ten times longer to flow through beaver areas than in rivers and streams without them. He said “Beaver-generated environments therefore not only regulate flows reducing flood peaks but also function as storage facilities for water, which can also assist in the alleviation of drought,”.
Researchers at Exeter University have been studying another beaver test area and the results have shown to be very positive. The data clearly shows the water flow at times of heavy rain to be far slower below the beaver site than above. This supports the theory that beavers can slow down the effects of flooding though their natural behaviour.
In Cornwall a farmer took his flooding problems into his own hands and teamed up with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to create another beaver area. The village of Ladock also suffered severe flooding recently but is now less at risk due to the beaver activity which has held back around 1000 cubic metres of water. Anecdotal evidence locally suggests that areas that always flood in heavy rain now remain passable and relatively dry.
Another interesting fact around beaver introduction is the fact the evidence suggests they actually improve water quality too. The dams they build seem to act as a filter for some types of pollution including phosphates.
The data so far from these trials show that beavers are certainly more cost effective than other flood prevention methods such as physical defences which can cost millions. The beavers are also able to adapt to changing conditions which other methods cannot do. Provided they are healthy they will provide a truly natural flood defence option.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have made it clear this should be the first of many similar beaver schemes in the Gloucestershire area and beyond so we could be seeing more beavers introduced across the UK and all the advantages both financially and physically that they bring.