Friday 6 September 2013
News today that the UK's water vole population has slumped by more than one fifth according to the latest national survey is a major blow for this already threatened mammal. A long-term project in the Chilterns is providing a ray of hope for 'Ratty's' future though as it demonstrates how a water vole population can be brought back from the brink.
Figures from the National UK Water Vole Database and Mapping Project, run by the Environment Agency and the Wildlife Trusts, reveal that during 2007-2011 water voles declined by 22% compared to the previous 5 year survey. Predation by feral American mink is a huge threat to voles, as female mink are small enough to enter their burrows on riverbanks. Another issue is the loss of vegetation along riverbanks, which deprives the voles of food and cover.
Lack of rain leading to low river flows also leaves the voles vulnerable: "If rivers dry up so that water voles' burrows are left high and dry, they are accessible to stoats and weasels," said Alistair Driver of the Environment Agency.
In the Chilterns, years of work by the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project, led by the Conservation Board, and the Berks Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, has led to a dramatic recovery of water voles along the River Chess, after they suffered a 97% population crash. Control of mink on the river and restoration of vegetation along the banks, with help from landowners, has meant that voles numbers have returned to their pre-crash level.
"The River Chess is an excellent example of how well-co-ordinated work between public and voluntary bodies, landowners and volunteers, all with a passionate concern for this charismatic little animal, can reverse its decline," said Allen Beechey, Chilterns Chalk Streams Officer.
Find out more about the water vole conservation work on the River Chess and the results of the most recent survey.