Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Boost for threatened water voles

Water voles have seen numbers decline by more than 90 per cent in the past few decades

Threatened water voles are being given a boost by the creation of new habitat across the country, the Canal & River Trust has said.

Work to help the voles, immortalised as "Ratty" in Wind in the Willows, will see almost a mile of new habitat along waterways to join up pockets of existing territory.

More than £100,000 has been donated for the work, which is focused on "greening" canal banks, making rolls and bundles of natural materials and floating islands that vegetation can grow on.

It is hoped this will provide habitat for the water voles to nest in and feed on, and will also benefit a range of other species including water shrews, dragonflies and damselflies.

Water voles have seen numbers decline by more than 90% in the past few decades as a result of predation by non-native mink, and loss of habitat.

The Canal & River Trust's project aims to help reverse the declining trend.

The work will be done by the organisation's ecologists and volunteer conservationists along the Grand Union Canal in London and Leicestershire, the Rufford Branch of Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Erewash Canal in Derbyshire.

As part of the scheme, "vole ladders" are being installed at Hanwell Lock Flight in Ealing to give an existing colony of water voles access to new floating islands for them to nest and feed on.

Leela O'Dea, ecologist for the Trust, said: "Water vole populations have rapidly declined in recent years, largely as a result of habitat loss and predation by mink. The slow moving waters of our canals and rivers can be ideal homes but colonies are often isolated.

"This work makes a massive difference as we can extend the water voles' territory, enhance the areas where they live, and play our part in conserving and restoring their populations."

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