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Beaver Ecology

Beaver Ecology

Beaver Ecology

Quantifying the impact of beaver reintroduction on aquatic ecology

Beavers are recolonising the UK after an absence of >400 years. As a keystone species and ecosystem engineers, beavers have the capacity to restore ecosystem functions, enhance habitat heterogeneity, raise biodiversity and contribute vital ecosystem servicesThe challenge here is to quantify ecological impacts and predict where they will manifest across a range of ecosystems in a modern UK setting. 

The PhD research aims to quantify what the wide range of aquatic ecological impacts of beavers might be, including effects on fish, macro-invertebrates and vegetation, across a range of sites in England, embedded within a project team which are leading beaver reintroduction monitoring and modelling across all major beaver sites in the UK.

Using a robust MBACI research design, the project will monitor the impact of beaver reintroductions where Beavers already exist and are well established, such as the River Otter Beaver Trial, the Mid-Devon Beaver Trial, the Cornwall Beaver Trial and the Forest of Dean Beaver Trial as well as capture pre-beaver baseline data in new locations where beaver reintroductions have yet to take place, including the Plymouth Beaver Trial, the Knepp Estate Beaver Project and the Cumbrian Beaver Project.

A blend of research techniques will be taken from aquatic ecology, ecohydrology and water resource management. Links will be explored between physico-chemical data obtained from water chemistry, bed sediment composition and channel structures relative to ecological signals/character derived from fish surveys and redd counting, species-level macro invertebrate surveys and aquatic vegetation surveys.

The project will have the following aims:

  • Quantify the impact of beavers on the ecological status of surface waters in terms of:  a. Numbers, size and diversity of fish species   b. Macroinvertebrate diversity and abundance  c. Aquatic vegetation diversity and abundance  d. Aquatic structure, including bed sediment composition and variability of channel bed structure at reach scales.   
  • Integrate site-scale impacts of beaver activity across a range of ecosystems in order to upscale and build a predictive tool to quantify the aquatic ecological change due to beaver behaviour at catchment scales.
  • Gain a greater understanding of the the impacts of beavers on aquatic ecology across lowland river systems in England.

Team members

  • Professor Richard Brazier, Exeter 
  • Professor Karen Anderson, Exeter
  • Professor Jim Freer, Bristol
  • Dr Alan Puttock, Exeter 
  • Elliot Mark, Devon Wildlife Trust
  • Dr Chris Extence, Environmental Agency


  • National Environmental Research Council (NERC)
  • Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT)
  • Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CoWT)
  • Cumbria Wildlife Trust (CuWT)
  • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)
  • Forestry Commission England (FCE)
  • Knepp Wildland Project (KWP) 
  • Environmental Agency (EA)