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Where Has Ratty Gone?

Posted: Wednesday 27th January 2016 by RiverSearch

©Jon Hawkins

The Trust has found no evidence of water voles in Surrey

The water vole is a much loved resident of British waterways, perhaps because of its association with Ratty from Wind in the Willows or because of its irresistible round face, button eyes and furry body.

Nationally water voles have disappeared from 94% of their former sites and this is largely due to habitat destruction and the introduction and spread of the invasive American Mink. The fact that this cherished creature has suffered “one of the most rapid and serious declines of any British wild mammal ever” (PTES) is a devastating loss for us all.

Like in many places, water voles were once an important part of fresh water habitats in Surrey and were found on all river catchments in the county. However, surveys within the last 20 years have shown a dramatic decline in water vole numbers. The last confirmed sighting of a wild water vole was recorded a worrying 8 years ago back in 2008, and there has been an unnerving silence since.

With this in mind, the Trust launched the Surrey Water Vole Recovery Project in 2014 with the aim to:

- Survey, map and report on sites that previously had water voles.

- Coordinate mink control efforts at a catchment level through collaborative working.

- Manage and Enhance areas of habitat for water voles.

- Inform e.g. Local Authority planning departments of water vole key areas.

- If required undertake a reintroduction program at suitable points across the county.

So far a total of 64 water vole surveys have been carried out, undertaken by a mixture of Surrey Wildlife Trust staff and 37 trained volunteers.

Of those, forty-four surveys took place on sites with past records of water voles and the remaining 20 were on areas either with suitable water vole habitat or anecdotal records of the species.

Sadly NO evidence of water voles was reported on any of the 64 survey sites.

It is believed the decline of the species in Surrey is due to predation from the invasive non-native American mink and the poor quality of potential water vole habitat. As many as twenty-two of the sites visited are currently unsuitable for water voles due in part to the way they are being managed.

The Trust will be continuing with surveys during the water vole breeding season (April-September) in 2016. However, the continuing lack of a positive vole record suggests the species is seriously threatened and may indeed be extinct in the county as we feared.

The Trust aims to resurvey up to 200 sites in the county with historic records of water voles. The information gathered during this phase of the project will be used to inform a second stage of habitat restoration and to help coordinate mink control. If no water voles are found and we can suitably address the issues that have caused the decline of the species we will start planning a reintroduction program.

If you’d like to get involved with our RiverSearch initiative and help us search for water voles in your local area, please get in touch:

Call:01483 663305

Alex Learmont

Living Landscapes Assistant


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