Could Beavers Help to Prevent Flooding?

According to researchers at the University of Stirling, they could.


It seems that beaver dams have actually helped to mitigate flooding by storing then slowly releasing the water. Not only this but beaver dams have also helped to improve local wildlife habitats.

The number of species in the surrounding habitats was 28% higher and there was 20 times more aquatic pond life in the pools created by the dams. Phosphorous levels in the active areas were ~50% lower than those in inactive areas and nitrate levels were also lower by 40%.


The animals were accused by some locals of contributing to flooding in Alyth, Perthshire in 2015.


The university scientists studied streams which drained water from 13 hectares of surrounding countryside, as part of a 13-year long study. The study compared areas where beavers were known to be active and those where they were absent.


The trial re-introduction began in 2009 in Knapdale, Argyll after beavers were hunted to extinction in the 16th Century.

Dr. Nigel Willby from the University’s School of Natural Sciences said, “Beavers have been previously incorrectly blamed for flooding, particularly near Alyth where our study was conducted.

“However, all the beaver dams remained standing upstream of the floods during July and more recent flooding.

“Our work points to the fact that by having the beaver dams present on a stream the floods are locally mitigated, as these dams store and slowly release water, unlike un-dammed, straight streams where water flows without obstacle.”


Farmers and landowners have stated that the beavers damage trees and cause flooding in fields alongside burns & rivers. This led to the recent reports of pregnant beavers being shot by landowners in Tayside, where the beavers are also now thriving.


Andrew Bauer, deputy director of policy at NFU Scotland said: “Statistically, it was always likely that there would be small pockets of land where the environmental benefits might outweigh the considerable problems being caused.

“There is no indication where the 13 hectares mentioned in this case are, but any benefits seem in localised areas will need to be viewed by the environment minister against the damage being done to productive farmland, long standing flood banks and established woodland or large parts of Tayside.”


Policy officer at Scotland’s Lands & Estates, Anne Gray, said: “We are not opposed to official trials of beaver reintroductions but this process has to be properly managed, which did not happen with the illegal release in Tayside.

“As we know from the trial at Knapdale, there may be some environmental benefits from beavers but this must be balanced against the negative impacts on many farm and forestry businesses.”


The beavers from the Tay were not part of the official reintroduction and they are thought to be escapees or illegal releases from private collections.


The Scottish Beaver Trial has certainly split opinion – what are your thoughts? Leave a comment of tweet me @lauracoyle_ .

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Laura Coyle

An Environmental Geography graduate with a passion for environmental education.

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