Beaver work

After a walk in the Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton, Canada, I understand the origin of the phrase ‘work like a beaver’.

Simone Buratti and John Powell

Simone Buratti and John Powell on the trail

With John Powell from the Countryside and Community Research Unit (CCRI) of Gloucester University and Simone Buratti, executive director of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), I followed trail 3, a 12-km walk from Shirley Lake.  Along the way we saw many examples of land laid waste (or is it ecological engineering?) by beavers as they chomped their way through trees and built their lodges.

Beaver lodge

Beaver lodge

The beaver effect

The beaver effect






The beavers have tackled large trees.


9 beaver tree

12 beaver work







Much of the forest seems to be secondary woodland of aspen.  Perhaps it has been destroyed by fire and this is regrowth.

7 secondary woodland

We also saw bison, close up

1 bison

and further away.

2 bison

There are over 500 Plains Bison and 400 Wood Bison in the park.  I am not sure which we saw.  They had red babies with them, which looked like South Devon calves from a distance.

There were signs out warning of aggressive bison

6 aggressive bison

and fresh bison droppings on the trail indicated they might be near by.

4 bison dropping

We had been warned to whistle or sing if we thought they might be around, and to watch their tails—the higher they are raised, the angrier the animal.

We also saw elk droppings, ‘like a pearl necklace’ says the literature somewhat euphemistically.

Pearl necklace

Pearl necklace

In the twentieth century settlement almost eliminated elk from this region.  In 1906 five men from north Saskatchewan lobbied the federal government to make the area an elk sanctuary.  It was granted federal park status in 1913 and later became a national park when the National Parks Act was passed by the Canadian parliament in 1930.

Pay to enter
Canadian and US national parks are owned by the federal government and you normally pay to enter.  We paid 19.60 Canadian dollars (about £15) to enter as a group.

Elk Island is one of seven dark sky preserves in Canada.  It is not a spectacular landscape but it is an important ecosystem and green wilderness close to the industrialised, devastated plains of eastern Alberta.  We are fortunate that those five men from north Saskatchewan had such foresight.

The southern entrance to the park, off highway 16

The southern entrance to the park, off highway 16

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
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