What's great about Beavers and Pine Marten?

, 03 December 2023
What's great about Beavers and Pine Marten?
Pine Marten © Mark Hamblin 2020/VISION

Species Recovery Officer Matt Phelps' job involves splitting his time between coordinating Beaver and Pine Marten work across Sussex, as well as writing a Species Recovery Strategy for the Trust,  reviewing whether it is appropriate to restore ecosystem engineer and keystone species to Sussex. 

We asked him to tell us a bit more about a couple of aspects of this new role

What’s great about Beavers and Pine Marten?

Beaver and Pine Marten are two species that we know were widespread across Sussex and the rest of the UK until a few hundred years ago, when they were persecuted and hunted to extinction (or near extinction) by humans. 

Both are thankfully now making a comeback, albeit rather slowly, and a large part of my role will be to plan and coordinate where and how they might return in Sussex. 

These are two of the most charismatic mammal species in Europe, but also perhaps two of the most misunderstood. They bring back so much ecosystem diversity and richness to the places where they are recovering in numbers; Beaver through their brilliant wetland creation work and Pine Marten through rebalancing woodland food chains, for example through reducing the presence and negative impacts of non-native species such as Grey Squirrel. As Chris Jones from the Beaver Trust says, our relationship with nature in the UK has been broken for a long time, and the widespread return of species such as Beaver and Pine Marten to our landscapes should be heralded as the return of some of that lost wildness to our wetlands and woodlands.

Beaver kit © David Parkyn
Beaver kit © David Parkyn

Define ‘ecosystem engineer’ and ‘keystone species’ for us and tell us why they matter.

Ecosystem engineer is a term given to any species which directly changes or impacts the environment in which it lives, either negatively or positively. A good example of this is the way in which Beavers will dam streams to create the deep-water wetland networks in which they like to live. Ecosystem engineers can often also be described as keystone species, although it is possible for a species to be one or the other but not both. 

Signs of Beaver engineering at Knepp © Sophie Atkinson
Signs of Beaver engineering at Knepp © Sophie Atkinson

A keystone species is one which has knock-on effects to other species and kickstarts natural processes in a landscape. Again, to use the same example, the Beaver is a keystone species as well as an ecosystem engineer because it restores these incredibly rich and diverse wetland landscapes which then offer so many opportunities to other wildlife such as waterbirds, invertebrates and fish, as well as providing other benefits such as flood mitigation and drought resilience. It is this process-led recovery of complex lost habitats and species communities within them which make ecosystem engineers and keystone species so important – and the best thing is once they’re up and running they essentially do all this amazing work for nothing!

Leave a comment


  • Ed edwards:

    Very touched by this

    21 Dec 2023 11:49:00

  • David Phillips:

    Great news on the appointment . Good to know we are looking to undo some of our previous mistakes in persecuting some species to near extinction. Best of luck – you have my full support

    21 Dec 2023 12:11:00

  • Caroline brent:

    Looking forward to hearing more about target area for beavers and pine martins in Sussex . Hoping some of the remaining ancient woodland of the high Weald might suit our pine Martin friends . When might we be able to learn a little more about any reintroduction plans?

    21 Dec 2023 12:46:00

  • Gail Greaves:

    Delighted to see the Beavers at Knepp are hard at work and news of their offspring is very exciting/ our own local reintroduction.

    21 Dec 2023 13:38:00

  • Tony Wetjen:

    Beavers at Knepp? Now that’s an achievement!

    21 Dec 2023 14:22:00

  • Jan McKinnell:

    Good luck with your new appointment, such a worthwhile and important project. What could be better than reintroducing two species that we humans virtually destroyed years ago and, in fact, do so much good.

    21 Dec 2023 21:06:00