One of the fastest declining mammal species in the UK is being reintroduced to a stretch of water in which they have been absent for over three decades. According to the National Trust, around 150 European water voles are being released in Somerset, where they were last spotted in the 1980s.
The rodent was made famous as a character in “The Wind In The Willows” named Ratty.
As part of a project to restore five rivers across England and Wales, the water voles are being placed in the River Aller in the Holnicote Estate on Exmoor. There is hope that the voles will promote wildlife among the region’s waterways.
In the last few decades, the water vole has declined in great numbers due primarily to habitat loss. The loss has also been largely due to American mink – predators that were released or escaped from fur farms.
In Holnicote, the water voles are thought to have vanished because of the mink, which eventually died out after killing off the water voles. The National Trust said that recent surveys of the estate’s streams have found no presence of the mink.
The first 150 water voles to be released have been bred from British animals and are being introduced in groups of siblings and breeding pairs at six sites along the river. Another 150 will be released in the spring.
Alex Raeder is a conservation manager at the National Trust South West.
“I remember being enchanted by these creatures as a child, and hugely welcome their return,” said Raeder. “They were once a vital part of the Holnicote ecosystem, and could be again.”
“This ambitious project not only brings back to its rightful home a much-loved small animal, which sadly became extinct due to human activity, but also adds to the whole wealth of wildlife and enjoyment of this wild and stunning estate.”
“In true Wind In The Willows-style, these voles should soon be busy burrowing into the muddy banks and creating more natural-looking edges to streams with shady pools that are great for so many other small creatures.”
Read more about the effort by the National Trust to protect water voles here.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer