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Flooding and drought at Spains Hall Estate, near Haverhill, reduced thanks to return of beavers





A project to reintroduce beavers to an estate less than 10 miles from Haverhill has proven its worth, with the beavers successfully reducing the impact of flooding and drought by storing millions of litres of water over five years.

Five years ago, Spains Hall Estate, whose office is in Finchingfield, worked with the Environment Agency to release the first pair of beavers in East Anglia for over 400 years.

With free reign across a 10-acre woodland stream, the beaver family, now numbering 11, have created nine dams which are estimated to store 3 million litres of water in ponds covering almost a quarter of the woodland.

After 400 years of being away, beavers have returned to Spains Hall Estate to have a positive impact on the environment. Picture: Spains Hall Estate
After 400 years of being away, beavers have returned to Spains Hall Estate to have a positive impact on the environment. Picture: Spains Hall Estate

An animation produced by catchment-scientists from AtkinsRéalis reveals the scale and speed of the changes occurring over five years.

Data collected by Kings College London demonstrates that the way water flows across the farm has also changed, with the beavers increasingly building bigger dams to trap more water each time it rains.

These changes mean that storm water now flows downstream more slowly, some even being held for several months as it’s slowly released back into the river, helping alleviate low river water levels in summer.

A beaver dam at the Spains Hall Estate. Picture: www.williamjoshuatempleton.com
A beaver dam at the Spains Hall Estate. Picture: www.williamjoshuatempleton.com

Archie Ruggles-Brise, estate manager at Spains Hall, which covers 830 hectares of land (about 2,000 acres) in north west Essex, said: “This is a massive milestone for us.

“We took a chance five years ago that bringing beavers back would be beneficial, and it’s proven to be better than we could ever have imagined.

“Locally there is widespread support for the beavers and their work, with the community really taking them to their heart.

“You can even find beaver greetings cards, beaver beer and beaver-themes on local menus.”

The return of Beavers to East Anglia for the first time in 400 years is having a positive impact on the environment. Picture: Spains Hall Estate
The return of Beavers to East Anglia for the first time in 400 years is having a positive impact on the environment. Picture: Spains Hall Estate

Matt Butcher, Environment Agency catchment manager, said: “We are delighted that the beavers have thrived and improved the landscape.

“Their work has demonstrated that nature-based solutions can be used to tackle challenges in smaller river catchments.

An aerial photo of a beaver habitat on the Spains Hall Estate. Picture: Spains Hall Estate
An aerial photo of a beaver habitat on the Spains Hall Estate. Picture: Spains Hall Estate

“We initially supported this work as a pilot study and have been really impressed with the results.

“We have since helped the estate scale up their beaver activity through more direct support, along with other partners, which has enabled the construction of two much larger beaver enclosures.”

Molly Howell, assistant environmental scientist at AtkinsRéalis, who produced the animation, said: “The animation is such a powerful tool to convey such a dramatic change in a simple way.

“The chance to track beaver-led changes over such a long time has been a great opportunity for us.

“It means we have real-life insights which we can use to support both estate and their partners, but also bring to our wider work.

“It’s a great example of how we’re able to use digital tools within a natural environment to enhance our understanding of what’s happening on the ground, and use that data to better inform how we support the project.”