Beavers are the Fifth Element


I would love to draw your attention to this fantastic BBC Earth article about beavers.

The piece is brilliant for two reasons. In the first instance it’s about beavers! Those loveable, toothy cornerstones of nature. It brings good news about the aforementioned.

But it’s also utterly, wonderfully bonkers. Laboured puns that are labours of love and metaphors extended further than Stretch Armstrong between two e-numbers addled children in the 90s. It’s full of gems like the following:

“When this animal existed in the tens of millions in Western Europe and Eurasia, it was a dominant landscape force, in the way that wind and water and fire are,” says Derek Gow, a beaver and water vole consultant from Devon.

Indeed, Beavers are the Fifth Element, so grand are they that they are only equatable to fire and water. And you thought it was like a funny otter thing. How wrong you were.

This article is a genuinely remarkable mix. The pedestrian and the preposterous are posited and the quixotic and the quotidian are quoted (C.S. Lewis gets a surprisingly bitter kicking at one point). A typical extract reads:

This is no trial, but a carefully controlled experiment. It is both a field site and a test tube.

Is it? Is it a test tube?

Is the following sentence delivered with a knowing smile or stumbled upon in ignorance?

Spotted kingfishers have been spotted.

We are left guessing, but like the beaver’s dams, many small jagged components somehow gel together in a feat of engineering. The author gets away with the following sentence, with only a cheeky nod to a hyperlink for another of his articles.

It is an old relationship. Humans have been coppicing willow for 8,000 years in the UK, but beavers have been doing it for around 10 million years.

10 million years! I laughed out loud after reading that sentence. It is glorious. The article is also affecting by turns and the following sentence was surprisingly moving:

“They can protect our homes, by building their own.”

So let’s hear it for the loveable, quirky, inventive critter – not beavers – the author Alex Riley! I urge you to check it out, it shouldn’t work, it breaks all the rules, but I love it.


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