'Ratty' makes welcome return to our riverbanksBy Linda Fort
July 01, 2010
The endangered water vole has returned to more than 30 habitats across the UK – including the River Kennet.
The good news has been revealed by the Environment Agency following a UK-wide survey.
Water voles, immortalised as Ratty in Wind in the Willows, were once a common sight but in the 1990s populations declined dramatically.
By 2005, 90 per cent had disappeared and the vole was the fastest declining mammal in the UK.
The return of Ratty is a result of improved river water quality for more than 20 years, habitat improvement work and control of the water voles’ main predator – the mink.
Over the last five years the Environment Agency has taken part in more than 2,000 projects to improve and create habitats across England and Wales and spent around £30 million creating more than 2,000 hectares of new habitat.
Across Berkshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire the Environment Agency has been working with a number of partners to increase the water vole population.
Successful partnership working with the Cotswold Water Park Society in Wiltshire/Gloucestershire has seen a significant expansion of water vole populations in Cotswold Water Park.
And a long-running project in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire with the wildlife trust has also seen populations largely stabilise after a period of steady decline.
The Abingdon area and the middle and upper reaches of the River Kennet have among the healthiest populations in the upper Thames region.
The Environment Agency has also supported a number of other projects encouraging water vole conservation work, such as the Lower Windrush Valley Project and the Chilterns Chalk Stream Project.
Water voles have also recently been found for the first time in 17 years along the River Beane in Hertfordshire.
The Environment Agency has taken tough action on river polluters, working with farmers to change farming practices, funding river restoration projects and ensuring investment by water companies.
As a result, otter and salmon are returning to many rivers for the first time since the industrial revolution along with the water voles.
The ground-breaking water vole database and mapping project brings together 36,000 individual water vole surveys from across the UK and will help to produce a comprehensive population map.
In order to help the species recover in areas of decline, the Environment Agency is releasing hundreds of specially-bred voles this year including 100 in Llangorse Lake in Powys last week.
Alastair Driver, the Environment Agency’s national conservation manager and chair of the UK water vole steering group, said: “The Environment Agency has plans to revitalise more than 9,000 miles of rivers in England and Wales by 2015 and this will inevitably contribute further towards ensuring the future survival of the water vole in the UK.”