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Nature Today |  The natural recovery power of beavers is visible from space

Nature Today | The natural recovery power of beavers is visible from space

Using satellite images, researchers made a preliminary selection of suitable areas for reintroducing beavers. Next, NASA will help “build a more detailed picture of how beavers are helping to transform our world, including combating climate change.” In order to combat climate change, for example, it is necessary to reduce forest fires, store carbon dioxide, and adapt water management on a large scale, through rain storage and groundwater replenishment, among other things. America is of course much larger in size, but the ecological processes are not much different than in our country. So what can beavers do for us?

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Better stored rain (Source: ARK Rewilding Netherlands)

It has intense rain showers and drought

In our country we also clearly see that the beaver is an ally in dealing with climate change. Similar results with her American research We also see this in areas where ARK is active, such as Gelderse Poort, Kempen~Broek and the stream valleys of southern Limburg. In Hemelbeek, for example, beaver dams slow the flow of water, increasing the water storage capacity of the entire river valley. This provides trees and shrubs near the beaver dam with water over a wider area. Beavers not only nibble trees, but also ensure the development of swamp forests and wet valley plains. In conjunction with pastoralists, a powerful mobile landscape is created where water is stored and even carbon dioxide storage is increased. As a keystone species, beavers are very effective at creating landscapes that can better withstand the harsh conditions of climate change. In what was recently published A process-oriented nature conservation handbook (PONC) (pdf: 2.4 MB) We discuss in detail the many possibilities that nature offers.

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Delta Europe

With many large and small waterways, the Netherlands is an ideal place to take advantage of the natural behavior of beavers. Thanks in part to the restoration of nature and the acquisition and development of new nature reserves, reintroductions and natural migrations are a success for our country’s beaver populations. Since our return we have witnessed the development of the typical landscape that belongs to the delta. Beavers develop swamp forests, wet stream valleys, and biodiverse banks along streams and rivers. When conflicts (may) arise with infrastructure, housing or businesses, a beaver management plan offers different solutions for living with beavers.

More nature for a better climate

Beavers gnaw down entire trees with their chisel-shaped incisors.  They eat it, block rivers with it, or build castles with it

Because beavers are so skilled at creating climate buffers, irrigating water and regulating water levels, they can contribute to a climate-resilient Netherlands as true water councils. Especially during times of weather fluctuations, when the frequency of peaks increases, followed by drought, followed by heavy rainfall. But there is more. Research from 2022, published in the journal Nature, shows that beaver dams increase the decomposition of ammonia and nitrogen oxides in the ecosystem. A beaver dam provides water retention, resulting in higher water absorption in the soil. Microbes in the soil ensure the decomposition of these nitrogen compounds. In the presence of beaver dams, the decomposition of these nitrogen compounds increases by up to 44 percent. Thus, there are opportunities to recover excess nitrogen in our flowing waters, and thus opportunities to meet the water quality requirements of the Water Framework Directive. Beavers already exist, we just have to give them space.

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From water filter to amaranth pasture

A beaver dam is not an impediment to the water, but rather a filtration system that ensures cleaner water and better bottoms and banks. Dams capture a lot of the sediment and leaves that come downstream. Meanwhile, the beavers make sure that the trees in the area are eaten, processed and turned into dams and castles. When the trees disappear, the beaver family moves to a new place to build a new dam and castle. The abandoned castle and dam have fallen into disrepair and the beaver dam breaks through, often in a different place than before. The swampy valley floor dries up and becomes overgrown. In this way, beavers create wet grasslands: the natural evolution of swamp grasslands.

Forest course in the river valley with Beaver Lake

Would you like to see a beaver lodge or dam yourself?

In many ARK areasBeaver tracks are not difficult to find, especially in the riverine landscape of the Rhine (Geldersport) and Maas (Greensmas). Sometimes you can literally stumble into it. You can recognize castles by their branches carelessly stacked on the banks of the water. Such a castle can easily reach a height of one meter, or even higher. Unfortunately, you have to look a little further for a beaver dam in the Netherlands, but Wijffelterbroek is located in Kempen~Broek, and there is a large dam there. It is a very wet area, so take your shoes with you while searching.

Text: Sabine Wolters, Leo Lennartz and Lars Sorenc, ARK Rewilding Netherlands
Photo: Sabine Wolters. ARK Rewilding Netherlands; Jeroen Helmer