Water voles back from the brink in south Wales

Endangered water voles are thriving in the protected Gwent Levels wetlands in south Wales, according to a new mapping report – despite the natural habitat being at risk of motorway development.

Water vole on a riverbank

The species was reintroduced to Magor Marsh nature reserve on the edge of the Gwent Levels, near Newport six years ago by Gwent Wildlife Trust. A new mapping report by the conservation group has found that they have bred successfully– spreading up to an area of 10 kilometres from the original reintroduction site.

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Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris) feeding, Kent, England, UK

The water vole is the UK’s most rapidly declining mammal and has been lost from 94% of areas where they were once prevalent. The species declined from 875,000 in 1998 to 400,000 by 2010, with a 2013 survey by Environment Agency and Wildlife Trust suggesting a further 22 per cent decline.

Waterway pollution, industrialisation of agriculture and predation by the North American Mink have all contributed to the decline of the species.

However, the Gwent Wildlife Trust has warned that the fate of the new water vole population could be at risk as a new 14-mile-long six-lane motorway has been proposed. The Trust is now appealing to the Welsh government to protect the wildlife havens which provide a habitat for rare wildlife such as water voles, otters and cranes will be badly affected.

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Ian Rappel, chief executive of Gwent Wildlife Trust said: “This beautiful landscape is a nature-lover’s paradise and people really enjoy its peace and tranquillity. But the success is bitter-sweet. If the new road gets the go-ahead billions will be spent destroying a very special place for the sake of saving ten minutes of commuting time.”