We should all aspire to be more like these anti-fascist, eco-conscious little rodents
What’s ‘in’ this year? According to the trend predictions lists I’ve seen flying around Twitter from self-described ‘cultural critics’, lots of things: dairy, being cringe, smoking, using a brick phone, microdosing mushrooms – the list goes on. But what of beavers?
If 2022 was the year of the capybara, 2023 is set to be the year of the beaver. The ongoing beavernaissance has its roots back in 2017, when these precious semi-aquatic rodents were reintroduced to the UK in an operation known as “The Cornwall Beaver Project” (they originally went extinct in the UK in the 16th century after they were hunted for their fur, glands and meat – RIP). And since their reintroduction to the UK six years ago, beavers have well and truly come into their own.
As a result of their reintroduction, biodiversity in Cornwall has massively improved, with 13 new bird and mammal species spotted in the surrounding area. Researchers and wildlife recorders have said that this is largely thanks to the beavers slowing the river flow and creating a more hospitable habitat for other native animals, including dragonflies, amphibians, birds and fish. Testament to their indispensability, in 2022, they were given legal protection in England, making it illegal to kill or harm them. Most recently, following the success of the Cornwall project, two beavers named Chompy and Hazel were released onto Ewhurst Park in Hampshire.
In ecology, beavers are known as a “keystone species”, which means they’re incredibly valuable to the ecosystem. “Reintroducing beavers is like throwing petrol onto the bonfire when it comes to nature recovery – it really speeds things up,” Chris Jones, farmer and communities director of the Beaver Trust, told the Guardian last year. They basically do the opposite of gentrification: instead of driving up house prices and catalysing the creation of yet another small plates restaurant, they actually contribute something – dams and canals – which will benefit the whole community and the area’s preexisting, long-term inhabitants.
Jokes aside, all their hard work really does help the climate. “They engineer the landscape in a way that reduces flooding, helps store water for drought, and boosts wildlife – and wetlands are great carbon sinks,” Jones told the Guardian. And before anyone suggests that they can’t be great climate activists if they’re always destroying trees… in the words of Insulate Britain activist and carpenter, Cameron Ford: “wood is regenerative, you can grow trees”. Duh!
Beavers even working hard to help Ukraine bolster its defences against Putin – anti-fascist queens! Apparently, they’re building dams at the Belarus border which keep the terrain ‘marshy and impassable’, making it nearly impossible for Russian forces to invade the Ukrainian region of Volyn. A spokesperson for the Volyn territorial defence, Serhiy Khominskyi, praised the beavers in an interview with Reuters. “When they build their dams normally people destroy them, but they didn't this year because of the war, so now there is water everywhere,” he said.
In the face of war and irreversible climate breakdown, this is admittedly a less important argument in praise of beavers, but I also think it’s worth reintroducing beavers across the rest of the country simply because they are sweet. Isn’t that reason enough? Just imagine walking by a river and seeing a beaver in the flesh, with its chubby little cheeks and rubbery little tail. I would cry with joy.