September 15, 2008

Eager to Tackle the Flood Threat ; Beavers May Build Defences


FORGET expensive man-made defences-the humble beaver could be the solution to devastating floods.

Wildlife expert Kevin O'Hara believes they could combat growing problems with flooding in the North East.

When there's heavy rain, their dams and canals can divert flood waters away from areas of human population which are usually further downstream.

The beavers also create natural wetland wildlife havens so other species thrive around them.

In the UK it costs millions of pounds for flood defence systems but, according to Kevin, beavers can provide some of the work for free.

The beaver alters the flow of water in its locality by digging canals and building dams.

"Rivers do flood and we have to learn to live with that," said Kevin, a conservation officer for Northumberland Wildlife Trust. "We are trying to get people to see that it's far better to see a field full of water rather than a house full of water.

"In the US and Europe defences are deliberately breached to allow water to be ushered away from towns where possible. They also have encouraged the return of the beaver and wetland creation on a much wider scale, taking land out of production and removing land drainage so that land can accept more water, the sponge effect."

The plan comes a week after storms caused devastating floods across the North East. At the height of the downpour, Morpeth High Street was under several feet of water as the bulging River Wans- beck burst through flood walls and transformed the town into a lake.

An RAF helicopter and lifeboats were called in to help pluck residents to safety as their downstairs rooms filled with water to chest height. Around 400 homes were damaged by the deluge and 1,000 people were forced to flee homes, as the town endured a month's worth of rain fall in 24 hours.

The European Beaver was hunted almost to extinction in Europe, and it died out in Britain in the 1500s. They were recently rein- troduced at Martin Mere Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in L ancashire.

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