The largest reintroduction of water voles in Britain started this week with the release of 325 voles into Kielder Forest in Northumberland – an area which used to have a thriving water vole population up until the 1980s. Following this weeks reintroduction, 350 water voles will be released again later this summer in August.
The Kielder Water Vole Partnership planned to focus on the reintroduction and re-establishment of Britain’s much-loved species between 2016 and 2021. It is hoped that within due course, this will result in the expansion into the wider mink monitoring area.
Kelly Hollings, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: “Water voles belong here and are an essential element of our wild and watery places. It’s terribly sad to have witnessed such huge declines of this lovely mammal in my lifetime. We’re doing everything we can to help bring them back.”
The water vole, that occupies a special place in British natural history can often be identified as ‘Ratty’, the much-loved character in The Wind in the Willows.
Once commonly found alongside our rivers, streams and ditches, water vole populations have been rapidly declining since the 1960s as a result of waterway pollution, housing development, the industrialisation of agriculture and predation by American mink. This has resulted in making the water vole Britain’s fastest declining land mammal.
Mike Pratt, Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive said: “This is a historic day for everyone involved and it’s a good moment to reflect on the fantastic efforts and great work being done by volunteers and the Restoring Ratty partners to bring back this much-loved mammal.
We’re improving habitats on our own nature reserves and working alongside a number of organisations and land owners to bring back water voles right across the county.”
‘Restoring Ratty’ is a five-year partnership between Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Tyne Rivers Trust and Forestry Commission England – made possible by National Lottery players through a grant of £421,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.