Ratty returns to the River Meon in largest UK reintroduction programme

Posted: Thursday 25th July 2013

The most ambitious water vole reintroduction to be attempted in the UK is underway on the River Meon in Hampshire as part of a project to return ‘Ratty’ to the river.

Once a common sight in the area, water voles are thought to have been locally extinct in the Meon Valley for at least five years. Now, thanks to a joint project led by the South Downs National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, the UK’s most rapidly declining mammal is making a come back.

The site of the first release is at Hampshire County Council’s Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, their team of rangers have worked hard to prepare the area. The project is also supported by Portsmouth Water.

Elaina Whittaker-Slark, a South Downs National Park ranger, said:
“This is an ambitious project on the largest scale ever attempted in this country. We hope that in the future we’ll have water voles back and thriving, from the source in the heart of the South Downs National Park, its tributaries and along the length of the Meon Valley.

Adam Cave, a Biodiversity Technical Specialist at the Environment Agency, said: “Our rivers are the healthiest for 20 years, but we are doing even more to further improve water quality and biodiversity. A lot of hard work has gone into improving the quality of the river Meon and we’re very grateful to the local landowners, anglers and volunteers who are supporting the project. It’s great we are in a position to be able to return water vole to the Meon.”

Ali Morse, Water Policy & Projects Manager at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said:
“Hampshire is a national stronghold for water voles and most rivers have seen populations start to recover over the past few years but, despite huge efforts to control mink on the river, water voles haven’t returned to the Meon. We’re very excited to be welcoming our new residents and hope that they enjoy their new home.”

Water vole populations across the country have suffered in the past because of habitat loss, pollution and predation by non-native American mink. The project partners have worked closely with landowners and anglers following extensive research and surveys to improve the quality of the habitat which will also benefit the river ecosystem as a whole.

Councillor Keith Chapman, Executive Member for Culture, Recreation & Countryside at Hampshire County Council said:
"This project recognises the quality of the outstanding habitat and hard work by our staff at Titchfield Haven. It is a real privilege that it has been chosen as the initial release site. A long-term mink control programme, combined with habitat improvements such as the creation of new reedbeds with ditches, pools and open water, should give the water voles the best possible chances to flourish.”




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