After a serious decline in numbers over the last 50 years, a new initiative gives these little creatures a glimmer of hope.
A hundred and fifty water voles were last week settling into new homes on the riverbanks of Hertfordshire, in south central England, as part of a conservation effort to halt the devastating drop in Arvicola amphibius numbers across the British Isles.
Once widespread in the UK, water voles – whose best known incarnation was Ratty, the sophisticated, charming and affable character in Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, first published in 1908 – have suffered a 90 percent plunge in population since the 1970s. They were once a ubiquitous presence along the banks of Britain’s rivers.
“Water voles, although small, have quite an impact on riverbanks and fields, and their presence is a sign that an area is ecologically healthy,” said Josh Kalms, a conservation officer for the Wildlife Trusts, the charity spearheading the campaign to save the water vole.
“However, land use changes along with mink farm escapees have devastated populations over the past 50 years. They have become the fastest declining mammal in the country, and they face extinction unless we do something to save them.”
In several areas of Britain, reintroductions have been launched in a bid to bring water vole numbers back to healthier levels. Fingers crossed!