Guest post by Tara Furlong on behalf of Friends of Woodock Park,
Residents petitioned Brent Together Towards Zero, who kindly funded the Friends of Woodcock Park to undertake the first stage of a beaver viability study on the Wealdstone Brook in Woodcock Park, Kenton. Renowned expert, Derek Gow, undertook the long drive up from his 400-acre farm on the far side of Dartmoor in Devon with his extraordinarily well-behaved pup and trays of wildflowers for the banks of the brook. Derek Gow is credited with re-introducing the beaver to the United Kingdom after a 400-year absence. While beavers once again live wild on many rivers, their re-introduction into any area is controlled by Natural England on a 5-year license. Beavers have been re-introduced to London in Ealing and Enfield. However, if they are re-introduced on the Wealdstone Brook, it would be the first on a London river.
The Wealdstone Brook is heavily culverted and has been subjected to manmade alterations along its course. It floods heavily and local homes are at risk due to decrepit infrastructure, huge numbers of misconnections by businesses and residents, and over-building. Despite the efforts of Thames Water, the quality of the water on the Wealdstone Brook is often very poor and can include untreated sewage in flash flooding events. Local residents are determined to keep it out of their homes. There are many red risk flooding areas along the course of the brook and one way of achieving a reduction in flooding is to hold water back in parks, gardens and green spaces where the earth can absorb the water before slowly releasing it.
Local residents enjoyed a talk by Derek Gow on the history and habitat of the beaver last Wednesday, 31st January, hosted by Uxendon Manor Primary School. After the talk, a panel fielded questions about the potential of re-introducing beavers. There were many concerns, not least how much space would be dedicated to a beaver enclosure, how beavers interact with people and pets, and whether beavers could survive in polluted waters. Beavers have crepuscular and nocturnal tendencies. They live in family colonies in many cities globally, as well as in the wild, and mind their own business unless threatened or assaulted, when they will defend themselves. Beavers are vegetarian: they eat herbaceous plants and roots and, in the winter, the cambium of trees. They like to plant larders for themselves in the riverbed near where they live. The channels they excavate out from the river to their food sources irrigate the earth. They build dams: leaky weirs which slow and purify water and create ponds.
Beavers’ natural behaviours change the landscape, producing new habitat out of an expansion of sunlight and water, which encourages a proliferation of biodiversity. The Wealdstone Brook in Woodcock Park is designated as a Site of Interest to Nature Conservation (SINC) but over the years its health has declined. Urban Riverfly Monitoring surveys since the summer have achieved a very poor biodiversity score of between zero and four out of a possible maximum of forty-two. The brook is almost dead. However, the recent dedicated activity of the Friends of the Wealdstone Brook, working with Thames Water, has helped improve water quality. A recent annual survey by the Environment Agency spotted twenty sticklebacks in the park. This is the first-time fish have been reported in two decades. The Friends of Woodcock Park aim to see the return of small amphibians, mammals and birds to the brook. A long-term ambition is to see the secretive woodcock which lives in damp woodland and which gave the park its name, and minute harvest mice that fall asleep in flowers after eating their fill of pollen.
The morning after Derek Gow’s inspirational talk, he presented to pupils from Uxendon Manor Primary School and St Gregory’s Catholic Science College. The children then planted the wildflowers on the banks of the brook: on the waters’ edge, mid-bank and on the upper bank. A Friends of Woodcock Park Community Gardening event the following Saturday secured biomatting around the young plants to help protect them. Pupils will monitor the success of these plants across sites in the park. Ideally, the wildflowers on the banks will establish, bloom and disseminate downstream to enrich biodiversity and contribute to stabilising the banks along the course of the brook.
While the final report has not been released yet, early indications are that the Wealdstone Brook in Woodcock Park is suitable as a beaver habitat. Its incised valley would encourage multiple tiered dams, leaky weirs, along its length. This would help filter out pollution such that the outflow from the park would be clean water. Careful planting would process pollutants and clean the water at source in the park too. The Friends of Woodcock Park have applied for NCIL funding for the second phase of the beaver viability study, which uses computer modelling to investigate possible inundation extents of beaver wetlands if dam sequences were created. It would analyse the impact on downstream flow regimes and therefore its applicability as a potential natural flood management option. In an ideal world, we would see a chain of beaver habitats created along the River Brent: currently the most polluted tributary of the River Thames.
Stay up-to-date on this ambitious project via the Friends of Woodcock Park website http://friendsofwoodcockpark.uk/ and social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Nextdoor.