The UK is considered one of the most nature-depleted parts of the world, and one of the most nature-disconnected nations in Europe. Lots of (appropriate) song and dance has been made about beavers, due to their powerful eco-engineering talents and their unrivaled ability to breathe life back into depleted landscapes. They are capable of converting degraded land into richer wetland habitat than anything we humans can replicate.
Environmental and ecological benefits aside, we thought it would be worthwhile to explore the potential implications of their reintroduction to our landscape from a psychological angle. The ‘extinction of experience’ or the diminished potential for everyday nature interactions and experiences is thought to be eroding our connection to nature, and this, in turn, has major implications for our mental well-being. There are also dramatic inequalities in access to natural settings in the UK, and a lack of opportunities for the British public to engage in high-quality nature experiences. Beaver eco-engineering can increase biodiversity and abundance of wildlife at the landscape level and they can create rich and wild wetland habitats which are likely to have psychologically restorative potential. Natural settings such as these can act as health-buffering ‘equigenic environments’, those that can disrupt the usual conversion of socioeconomic inequality to health inequality – one study estimated that globally, protected areas in nature benefit the mental health of visitors to a value of US $6 trillion per year. With the advent of Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) in the UK, there is greater potential for beneficial ecosystem service provision and increasing public access to nature, potentially through the establishment of buffer zones around waterways (which would yield a number of important benefits) and beaver wetland creation. Beavers themselves also have potential as ambassador animals or flagship species, igniting an interest in nature and making them great candidates for nature-based educational programmes.
Beaver reintroduction can also have negative psychological impacts – these are also addressed, and a variety of potential management and mitigation approaches (both physical and emotionally-focussed) are suggested. This is vital given the importance of emotions in dictating the outcome of human-wildlife conflicts over and above scientific evidence. Overall, a key takeaway is that the psychological benefits of beaver reintroduction likely exceed that of any other single species’ reintroduction or conservation initiative of equivalent cost, and far outweigh the costs of their reintroduction and management.
Special thanks to my collaborator Rosalind for her enriching input and deft co-sculpting of this paper, partly inspired by our own trip to visit the beavers in the wonderful wilds of west Scotland. Read our paper here: http://www.ecopsychology-journal.eu/v7/EJE%20v7_Gandy_and_Watts.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0PusHXbCF-zSekvvbeiwSel_SQHm9o2uU2NZcRqWAb-4eUm4DISW8cycE