Beavers are the world’s second largest rodent, coming in at 90cm long, 38kg in weight and with a 38cm tail. They use their broad, powerful tail as a rudder in the water and can dive for up to six minutes at a time. Beavers are strict vegetarians, feeding on aquatic and herbaceous plants in the summer and woody stems in the winter. They build up large food stores in their dens during the autumn to sustain them over the winter.
Beavers are extremely social mammals, living in tight-knit family groups. They breed in early spring, producing litters of one to three kits. They learn to swim within hours and may not disperse until they are two years old.
Beavers are a keystone species, creating and manipulating the habitats around them to suit their own requirements. This often results in the damning of waterways to create pools, marshy areas and canals used to transport woody material. The wetlands created by beavers support a huge range of biodiversity, as well as helping to alleviate flooding downstream and filtering harmful pollutants out of waterways.
Once widespread in mainland Britain, beavers were hunted to extinction in 16th century for their fur and musk-scented secretions. In recent years there have been several reintroductions in the UK, including both free-living populations and individuals in enclosures.