Scottish scientists said beavers are good for environment. Findings showed that beavers can help minimize pollutants, lower the instances of downstream flooding and improve biodiversity.

Researchers from the University of Stirling in Scotland analyzed the habitat of beavers that were reintroduced in the Tayside region in 2002. They studied the head water streams and compared the data with and without active beaver population.

Lead researcher Dr. Nigel Willby said that the beavers' skills in building dams help revive damaged streams. The resulting dams help store flood water and reduce pollutants.

"What we found was, downstream of these dams, the water level doesn't get to the same height as it does upstream," said study co-author Dr. Alan Law who took part in the 13-year research program. "Also, the time it takes to get to this height is much longer, by several hours."

The beavers' behavior also helped increase the surrounding habitat's complexity and the number of species in the area by as much as 28 percent.

The resulting beaver dams caused a 20-fold increase in aquatic plant life and seven-fold surge in organic matter retention. Phosphorous levels in abundant beaver areas were reduced by almost half while nitrate levels spiraled down by over 40 percent.

"The beavers' engineering is therefore transforming low quality habitats in regions where the animal has long been absent. These benefits, however, must be weighed against the potential for occasional negative impacts on fisheries, forestry and farm crops," said Willby from the University's School of Natural Sciences.

Willby said that the findings provides an opportunity for open talks about the advantages and disadvantages of beavers in the Scottish countryside. The research was published in the Freshwater Biology journal on Feb. 11.

Andrew Bauer, National Farmers' Union (NFU) Scotland policy deputy director, said that based on statistics, there would always be small land areas where the environmental benefit are greater than the problems these animals might cause. Bauer said that the benefits need to be analyzed by the environment minister in comparison to the potential damage in farmland, woodlands and flood banks in Tayside.

Photo: Bill Damon | Flickr

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