I work on climate, ecological and environmental issues, with a history in renewable energy and conservation. But most things I do now are in response to the climate emergency; I want to help people and wildlife adapt because I believe things are going to get a lot worse, pretty quickly. As a personal response I have an increasing interest in permaculture and horticulture (the practical applications of which are having varied results at home) and get outside on hills, in woodland or in water as much as possible. I am slowly learning to embrace my childhood nickname, Eva Beaver. Twitter: @evabishop
I can barely fully absorb the Australian catastrophe we witnessed from afar this winter, most painful of all the billion or more animals who were burned alive. A catastrophic and real time result of climate and ecological breakdown. That’s a term often used to add emphasis, but in this instance it is every bit the catastrophe and by no means the only one unfolding right now.
My passion for tackling the climate and ecological crisis has now spanned about fifteen years and I find myself shifting further along the spectrum of climate anxiety every week, as the scenarios for 2020 we talked of in 2005 unfold with greater speed and force than any scientist was able to predict or perhaps willing to admit. But however bad it is today, it’s fairly guaranteed that you will soon look back fondly on the year 2019 as a relatively easier climate in which to live. The bottom line is this: not giving our all to drive adaptation and resilience is wasting these precious ‘practice years’.
So it is that I have joined the Beaver Trust, at its heart a group of people so passionate about helping turn around the ecological crisis that going to work actually gives me hope. Hope being sometimes hard to find in a world of rapid and permanent biodiversity losses, ‘insectageddon’, dangerously poor levels of soil quality, rates of rainforest destruction that are hard to comprehend.. and so on into the abyss. Having spent decades undermining the complex web of life on Earth, we humans, the ‘hyperkeystone’, now have a monumental responsibility to restore nature, habitats, species and resilience of natural processes on which we will increasingly depend for our own survival.
Luckily for us there still exists this magnificent, stealth operator species, the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) that can accelerate nature’s recovery process, transforming landscapes literally overnight, and rapidly build some resilience to the impacts of climate breakdown across Britain if we, in the hyperkeystone role, let it back. But the controlling nature of our society makes us very wary of change and the island mentality (perhaps) in Britain leads to every square inch of land being overmanaged. So there’s a significant job to do reimagining how our river catchments might develop, particularly across farmland. We need to encourage a shift in mindset to allow nature space to recolonise riversides and reverse the downgrading, domino effect caused from seeing our rivers purely as drainage channels rather than a source of abundant life.
The Beaver Trust wants to support and help communities across Britain understand beavers and how to live alongside them again. We believe they are one of the fastest and most economic methods we have to restore the health of our rivers and streams. But we need to be able to discuss the pros and cons of beavers in a positive way in any setting. If we are to succeed with beavers tackling climate instability in Britain we need to be sharing knowledge, engaging experts and facilitating open discussion.
Beavers are a delightful creature to witness in the wild. They offer tangible reasons for hope that rebalancing depleted landscapes is possible. In this great video from the River Otter Beaver Trial, Mark Elliot of Devon Wildlife Trust demonstrates the beaver’s capacity to improve riparian habitat, reduce flood impacts and severity and create beautiful wetland habitat.
There is a slowly shifting perspective among the custodians of Britain’s land and waterways towards ecological restoration as a response to the climate crisis and depleted state of nature. People want to see positive change and be part of making it happen, but aren’t always sure where to start or able to give up land to rewild. So we need to help people understand how bringing beavers back might play out locally for them. We are taking our colleague Chris’s experience at the Cornwall Beaver Project and the lessons learned across Europe and the USA to show how beavers can be a force for good.
Best of all for me, as a parent, is the opportunity to inspire and engage our primary school children, that section of society brimming with hope and positivity even in this time of global crisis. With the beaver as a figurehead for positive change and adaptation, we are designing a schools education programme with talks, lesson plans, games, practical and hands-on learning tools and outdoor sessions aligned to the curriculum. Beaver sites offer an ideal outdoor classroom, a platform for exploring nature and the plethora of subjects relating to wetland ecosystems; keystone species, our place in nature, endangered species, pondlife, sediment and water flow and climate change. Pertinent, given the importance of young people in drawing attention to climate change and the increasing likelihood of a Natural History GCSE soon becoming available.
Perspective and mindset change is a big part of this; children need to know what nature and our landscape could (and arguably should) look like, and it’s not what they see if they step outdoors today. What they see today has been downgraded over decades. The biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82% and natural ecosystems have lost about half their area, according to a planetary health report by 450 scientists and diplomats last year. We need to help the next generation understand what they are facing and strive for constant improvement rather than accept the desertification of our farmland and riverscapes. Freshwater shortages don’t have to become a climate crisis inevitability, but we persist in taking freshwater for granted in this country. Time to appreciate that the river network is one of the few existing corridors already connected across the UK, making the ideal nature recovery network and beavers the ideal nature recovery instrument.
It feels important to be part of the effort to bring back nature’s climate rebels and we want more people to join the movement. With enough support we can let them get on and build a foundation of resilience for wildlife and humans, and find something that brings hope through action.
For more information about the Beaver Trust – click here.