Restoring Ratty

Water vole © Tom MarshallWater vole © Tom Marshall

 


 

Bringing the water vole back to Kielder
Water voles were once a common sight on our local waterways but sadly numbers have declined dramatically in recent years. However, thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the support of partners in Forestry Commission England and Tyne Rivers Trust, NWT is currently involved in a project to restore water vole populations into the Kielder catchment of the north Tyne, with a view to their eventual spread throughout the catchment and surrounding areas. 


What we are doing?
Between 2016 and 2021, this project will reintroduce and establish a source population of water voles which could then expand into the wider mink monitoring area. To achieve this, water voles will be collected from donor sites in the North Pennines, Yorkshire and Trossachs where suitable water vole populations currently exist. Through captive breeding, numbers will increase to ensure sufficient voles are available for reintroduction. Donor animals will be collected in the autumn of 2016, breeding will take place from spring 2017 with an aim for the first release to take place in summer/autumn 2017 and then further annual releases through the life of the project.

Throughout this project and for the previous two years, NWT volunteers and other partners have been undertaking the task of monitoring for the presence of mink in and around the Kielder Water Forest Park. This has shown that the area is virtually mink free and the environment is suitable for the reintroduction of water voles. We cannot however rest on our laurels as mink are always on the fringes of the area and could surface at any time, and as such, monitoring will continue as we reintroduce water voles to Kielder.

During the summer of 2016 we captured water voles from the North Pennines and in 2017 from the North York Moors. These, along with voles from the Trossachs in Scotland, will form the basis of our breeding population. The video below was filmed as we captured water voles in the North Pennines and shows the process and the frustrations and joy of working with wildlife!


Video One

The video below was filmed as we captured water voles in the North Pennines and shows the process and the frustrations and joy of working with wildlife!


Video Two

The capture voles are transferred down to Devon where they are over wintered and bred in specialist facilities. The breeding will carry on throughout the project to allow a genetically diverse supply of voles to be released into Kielder. 


Video Three

The big release! In June 2016 we released 320 voles into the area north of Kielder Village. This process took over a week and a lot of hard work by our brilliant volunteers, staff and project partners. The video below shows the process. A further release of 270 water voles took place in August 2017 and further releases are planned for 2018 and beyond.

 


Why bring back the water vole?
This project will reintroduce an iconic British species, thought to be the UK’s fastest declining mammal, to Kielder Water and Forest Park. Habitat loss, inappropriate wetland management and, principally, the introduction of the North American mink (Neovison vison) have all contributed to huge and continued water vole population losses since the 1960s. Populations fell by over 90% in the 1990s alone. The species has disappeared from 94% of sites where it was once prevalent. Kielder once had a thriving population and local residents can remember seeing water voles in the past.


How can you help?
We will be looking for further volunteers to help undertaking mink and water vole monitoring as well as helping out at events and with the releases. It would also be great to hear from landowners who would be happy to host and check a mink raft in the North Tyne and Rede valleys.

If you do spot water voles or mink in the Trust's catchment area please do let us know.


Keep in touch
If you would like more information about the project, please contact Kelly Hollings or Graham Holyoak on (01434) 250 898 or email restoringratty@northwt.org.uk

Keep upto date with the project by visiting our blog, following the project on Facebook or by signing up to our newsletter.

Restoring Ratty has been supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to start work on the process to reintroduce Water Voles into Kielder. (www.hlf.org.uk)