Beavers are back in the UK and they will reshape the land

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Five years ago, tall trees such as birch, aspen, and the occasional oak filled this small space, all lining the trickle of a highland stream. The thick canopy cast a shadow on the plants below, sapping the life from their leaves.

Today, things have changed. The undergrowth is overgrown. Lopsided willow trees dominate, sending hundreds of shoots and stems into the air, each pining for the light above. A thick blanket of green foliage erupts from the peaty soil.

Flora is blossoming, fauna flourishing. With their long cascade of pink bells, foxgloves rise high from the purple moor grass below. Butterflies and bees flutter from flower to flower.

“The biodiversity is booming,” Brazier tells me as we approach the wire fence through a field of coarse grass and rushes. “It’s alive.”

Behind this fence, every species – plant and animal– depends on the behaviour of just one: the Eurasian beaver. Since their introduction in March 2011, a breeding pair of these large rodents has been as busy as, well, beavers.

They have raised a family. They have built a lodge to live in and gouged deep canals through the land for getting out and about. And, of course, they have chopped down trees and built a series of 13 dams from sticks and mud. The woodland stream has been, and is being, transmogrified into wetland.

It is easy to see why beaver are known as “ecosystem engineers”. But it is Brazier and Puttock’s task to find out what these large rodents are engineering exactly.

read more: www.bbc.com/earth/story/20161005-beavers-are-back-in-the-uk-and-they-will-reshape-the-land
article: Alex Riley
photo: Nick Upton

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