Wildlife trust appeal to help save Ratty

Water vole
Water vole

An appeal has been launched to help protect water voles and their habitats for the future.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) launched the fundraising appeal this week.

While the numbers of water voles are declining nationally, in Berks, Bucks and Oxon the populations of these charming animals has increased over the last few years.

Water voles are now a much more common sight along streams and rivers such as the River Chess and River Misbourne in Bucks, and they have been sighted on the River Great Ouse, west of Buckingham.

This is all due to careful and dedicated conservation work by the Wildlife Trust with local landowners, and dozens of volunteers carrying out surveys.

This work was carried out with support from the Environment Agency, the Canal & River Trust and Thames Water.

But external funding is starting to dry up, and the future of the water voles is in jeopardy.

BBOWT’s water vole project officer, Julia Lofthouse, is leading the fundraising appeal.

She said: “Although we’ve seen an increase in water vole populations, in some areas by almost 60 per cent, they can disappear as readily as they arrive.

“My worry is that if we turn our backs, even momentarily, all our good work could be undone, and signal the end for some of our local water vole colonies.”

BBOWT set up the Water Vole Recovery Project, the first of its kind in the UK, in response to the startling results of a national water vole survey carried out in 1990.

This showed that water voles had vanished from 94 per cent of their habitats throughout the country – indicating a serious threat to the survival of this much-loved animal.

The decline of water vole populations over the last half of the 20th century coincided with changes in the ways farmland and rivers were used.

Some streams and rivers became part of industrial developments or golf courses, and banks were substantially engineered with walls that water voles cannot burrow into.

American mink, which were farmed for their fur until the early 1990s, escaped into water courses and have now become the main predator of water voles, capable of annihilating colonies within a few weeks.

See www.bbowt.org.uk