New maps reveal Ratty’s return

Posted: Wednesday 4th August 2010

Water vole strongholds discovered, but Ratty still endangered in much of UK.

Over thirty locations where the critically endangered water vole has made a comeback have been discovered by a UK-wide survey led by the Environment Agency.

Water voles, immortalised as Ratty in Wind in the Willows, were once a common sight on waterways across the UK but in the 1990s water vole populations began to decline dramatically. By 2005, 90 per cent had disappeared, making them the fastest declining mammal in the UK.

The survey results are thanks to a combination of the best river water quality for over 20 years, habitat improvement work and control of the water voles’ main predator - mink.

Over the last five years the Environment Agency has taken part in over 2000 projects to improve and create habitats across England and Wales, and spent around £30million creating more than 2000 hectares of new habitat.

River water quality has also improved continuously since 1990, thanks in part to the Environment Agency taking tough action on polluters, working with farmers to change farming practices, funding river restoration projects and ensuring investment by water companies.

As a result, wildlife such as water voles, otter and salmon are returning to many rivers for the first time since the industrial revolution.

The groundbreaking 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 map of water vole populations across the UK. The survey data has identified over 30 water vole hotspots in England including grazing marshes and ditches in Yorkshire and Lancashire, moorlands in the Pennines and wetlands on the east coast.

Wales also supports important populations in the Wye valley, on the Isle of Anglesey, in Snowdonia, Denbighshire, Ceridigion and Llanelli.

However, the data also shows how badly the species is faring in many parts of the country, with water voles extinct in Cornwall and the remaining two populations in Devon still very small. The species continues to decline in many areas, including over much of the south east of England and in parts of south and west Wales.

In order to help the species recover in areas of decline, the Environment Agency is releasing hundreds of voles across England and Wales this year.

As part of this restocking programme around 100 water voles were released at Llangorse Lake in Powys yesterday, Thursday 17 June. The young voles, reared at a dedicated breeding facility, are the first of a series of water voles to be released this summer in an attempt to re-establish the species in areas where they have declined.

Alastair Driver, the Environment Agency’s national conservation manager and chair of the UK water vole steering group said: “The early results of the water vole mapping survey are very encouraging. Water voles are doing really well in some areas where widespread long-term mink control has been combined with habitat creation, but it is clear that there is still along way to go before water vole numbers return to healthy levels. The Wildlife Trusts are now working hard for us by using this fantastic dataset to produce maps showing where all the hotspots for water voles are around the country so that they can be protected and encouraged to spread further afield.

“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. “

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