22 March 2022
There was a time, long ago, when you couldn’t walk far across Britain without tripping over a beaver dam. Sadly, sometime around the 16th century, the last of the Eurasian beavers to live wildly in Britain were hunted to extinction.
Today though, against a complex background of global warming and climate change, the reintroduction of these creatures to the countryside is teaching landscapers and gardeners valuable lessons about water sustainability – even in the most heavily urbanised areas.
A beaver dam on a river or stream slows down water velocity, preventing overwhelming quantities from causing damage downstream. It filters out certain nitrates and phosphates, improving water quality. Beavers use the dam as a home, an amenity for storing food. And all of this activity creates a knock-on effect, benefitting other natural systems by increasing surrounding water surface area.
In fact, it’s the perfect representation of the four principles of a SuDS (Sustainable Drainage System) – quantity, quality, amenity and biodiversity. These are key to sustainable garden design – and a way landscapers and contractors can not only help mitigate against the effects of climate change, but create attractive, rewarding outdoors spaces for their customers.
The changing landscape
A few decades ago, many thought global warming would simply mean more sunbathing in Blackpool. The reality is the ‘feast or famine’ weather patterns we’re getting used to now. While one minute we’re baking in a prolonged dry period of ‘record high temperatures’, the next we’re watching news footage of floodwater cascading down the steps of the London Underground. Now, reports suggest that drought will be such a problem in the south east of England, there’ll be water shortages. Really? How can flooding cause a shortage of water?
The fact is, we’re expanding our towns and cities. Building on greenfield sites to accommodate new homes. Paving over front gardens, ready to plug in a shiny new electric car. This of course, creates more hard, impermeable surfaces and means fewer natural, grassy or wooded permeable surfaces. Water moves quicker on non-permeable surfaces.
Water stored underground lasts for eons. Water that runs off into surface water simply evaporates away.
These factors are of such concern that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has recommended updates to the non-statutory technical standards for SuDS*. DEFRA now has six key standards to consider when designing water management systems:
- Runoff destinations
- Everyday rainfall
- Extreme rainfall
- Water quality
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* Recommendations to Update Non-Statutory Technical Standards for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) Final Report, February 2021