Through alder trunks and fresh willow whips, the pool surface is pale in the gathering dusk. The evening sky reflects like a mirror. Birdsong is rich and clear. Every small animal waiting for dusk has woken; thinking about a night of foraging ahead. A kingfisher flashes past. From the bog at Shanagarry comes the plaintive cry of a lone curlew.
Then there is movement. Ripples radiate from the twiggy dam. The glassy surface is gone, replaced with an electricity of watching something new, exciting; somehow rare and elusive. Brown nostrils, wet whiskers, big eyes and a small crown of forehead are all that belie her steady movement from the lodge and out to an evening of work. By morning, the clearing will be wider, with fresh poles for dam building.
Reintroduced in 2021, beavers have settled in well. Here on the Rooska stream in East Cork, they have been around since the earliest introductions, but this lodge is new, built only last year. Their pond it holds back rises into the scrubby margins and practically has a “welcome beavers” sign up. Their lodge sits along the lower pond margin, out of reach of both foxes and people. Being small, tasty vegetarians, they need some extra skill to stay safe, namely engineering and construction.
It’s strange now to look back and see the sheer improbability of beavers being here. Just seven years ago most farms stretched to the water’s edge; pushed ever lower, into ever wetter soil, by the Area Payments that rewarded only bare soil or grass. Now though, the Climate and Biodiversity Fund rewards the many other things that the land has to offer. Food growing is still central, but so too are flood control; wild flowers for pollinating insects; building rich soil humus; carbon sequestration and creating spaces for wildlife. Not just in awkward field corners, along boggy riverbanks or on bare exposed hills; but along hedgerows, in new farm ponds and near byways and buildings as well.
This wildlife cover also shelters sheep and cattle, protects crops, improves yields on the remaining land and is a boon for all the wild species that were being brushed under the carpet for decades. With wet and marginal farmland newly valued for flood control and growing trees for climate resilience, riverbanks throughout Ireland, like here between Cloyne and Garryvoe, have become scrubby and wooded; beautifully so for wildlife. Thus, space for beavers. Boated from Devon in
2021, now gainfully employed in dozens of river catchments around the country.
Unpaid engineers, they dam streams, filtering the water and reducing downstream flooding. And more salmon are returning, river by river, year by year. Although there are no historic records of beaver bones or lodges in Ireland, absence of proof may not be proof of absence. They’re enthusiastic swimmers. Early introductions in Scotland 20 years ago saw beavers swimming by sea to Wales for company; so it’s not a stretch to think that they were common in Ireland in the distant past, just a short hop from Scotland. Absence of records may simply be an indication of how tasty they were to people, bears and wolves; right down to the marrow. Either way, they are happy in their newly adopted home. Dusk has gathered here at the edge of the pond, which looks as if it could be from any era in the past 10,000 years. Time to rise, stretch out the dew and stiffness from sitting, and wander homewards along the river path. Time for bed, to dream contented dreams of a beautiful clean new Earth and its many and varied inhabitants.