Scottish beavers have been vindicated after being wrongly blamed for floods last year, as an academic study revealed they actually help flood prevention.
Angry local residents blamed the rodents for flooding in Alyth, Perthshire, in July last year after noticing "clear beaver marks" on the wooden debris that washed up in the town with the floodwater.
But a 13-year study by Stirling University has shown that far from causing floods, beavers actually help to prevent them, because their dams create slow-moving pools of water. Beaver expert Dr Nigel Willby told BuzzFeed News he was pleased his work has cleared the good name of beavers.
"Alyth had some really bad floods last year and beavers were completely erroneously blamed for it," said the freshwater ecologist. "I think ultimately the people who put this story out ended up with quite a lot of egg on their faces. If you looked at the wood that was trapped under the bridges, it hadn't originated from beavers."
Willby explained that beavers aim to create still but deep pools in the hope of staying out of the reach of predators, and these pools help to prevent flash-flooding from heavy rainfall, especially in flat farmland, which is a feature of much of Perthshire.
"Beavers basically try to build ponds," said Willby. "Their objective is to reduce the likelihood they will be eaten by wolves or bears or wolverine and they do that by raising the water level. That allows them to swim around safety and fell trees as they require.
"The consequence of that is that in building small dams, they create ponds which regulate the flow of water during floods. They store water during heavy rainfall and that water then gets released much more slowly, so you end up with a more stable flow pattern as opposed to a flashy pattern you get on agricultural land."
The study also revealed that the work of beavers – such as building dams, creating canals to transport wood, and felling trees – does a lot to help create diverse habitats in otherwise fairly uniform farmland, which is good for wildlife.
"People aren't aware how much habitat engineering beavers do and how quickly they can transform a watercourse," said Willby. "It's remarkable how quickly a small number of animals can transform a straight bit of stream into something quite amazing and spectacularly different to what was there before.
"To have that snapshot of what landscapes were like 400 years ago when beavers were still around, and to get back to that situation quite quickly, is quite remarkable, in its own way."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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