The second-largest rodent in the world, adults can measure over a metre in length. A beaver’s scaly tail is an impressive feature, operating as a rudder for steering, as a prop for balance, and as an aid to help carry trees. If you are lucky enough to come across a beaver while walking, you may hear the splash as they use their tail to hit the water, creating a distinctive slapping noise. Generally, however, they are silent and secretive, mimicking logs and diving out of sight when disturbed.
Beavers are perhaps most famous for their skill as dam-builders. Made out of mud, wood and stones, you’ll often find beaver dams built on shallow rivers or ditches, protecting the beavers from predators and creating water channels leading to food sources. They also build the wood-based lodges in which they live, using them to eat, sleep and raise their kits, and store food for the winter.
They’re not only skilful, they’re loyal too. Males and females usually pair up for life, producing between one and four babies (‘kits’) each year. The bond between parent and offspring is a strong one, with kits staying in the family unit for up to two years.
All of this is fascinating, but what really excites the wildlife experts is the impact beavers have on the habitats in which they live. Many people think beavers eat fish, but this is a myth - they are vegetarian, living on bark, wood, twigs and aquatic plants. In fact, it’s thought the presence of beavers leads to an increase in fish species, attracted by the invertebrates which thrive in the woody debris created by the beaver’s industrious lifestyle. What’s more, beaver activity can boost plant diversity by as much as 33%. By gnawing down trees to create their dams, beavers coppice the woods around them, encouraging new growth among light-seeking plants.