Restoring Ratty - Summer 2020 Update

Hi all! Crikey where has the time gone, we haven’t written a blog since May! In spite of Covid-19, we have had a busy summer and were able to release 150 water voles in June.

We were so grateful to receive help from our NWT colleagues Anthony, Geoff, Duncan, Jennifer, Alice, Sophie and Elaine. One advantage of lockdown was that we felt so much more connected as a Trust, and felt like a large team rather than all working away on our individual projects and tasks. Thank you all for your time, we couldn’t have done it without you.

Volunteering was suspended on Forestry England land until August, hence Graham and I were again reminded of how valuable our volunteers are, and how much work they do for Ratty! Fortunately, the weather was kind and Graham and I were out every week surveying and checking the mink rafts. It was nice to have some human contact, at a safe distance of course!

August came along and we were able to welcome back our lead volunteers, (hooray!) and during the month we released a further 134 water voles. We have moved down to the dam end of Kielder for our releases now, see below.

Kielder Map

Image: Restoring Ratty

134 water voles isn’t a huge number, but we had a small team and the terrain was so tough; it was exhausting! The Kielder midges blessed us with their presence daily during this release, and I vividly remember on the last day of the release when we were bringing in the pens, I wanted to leave them on site and come and collect them another time. Thankfully our committed volunteers (Dave!) were having none of this and we persevered carrying them up the steep hill back to the vehicles – what a work out! To make up for our blood, sweat and (almost from me..) tears, two ospreys flew across Emblehope Moor whilst we were having a lunch break. Thanks for the August release go to our sterling volunteers, Mel, Sue, Dave and Simon; our colleagues and partners from Tyne Rivers Trust, Liz and Simone, plus Alice and Dan from NWT. Not forgetting Coral of course from Derek Gow Consultancy who brings the voles up from Devon and helped us for the first day of the release. 

I took a holiday in August, and Graham manned the fort (again!) I spent a fabulous 10 days exploring the highlands of Scotland with my family, including a week on the Isle of Lewis, it was amazing. We were blessed with gorgeous weather, swam daily and saw golden eagles, dolphins, short-eared owls, and……..beavers!

Beaver - Kelly Hollings

Image by: Kelly Hollings

We’ve been flat out with releases surveys and raft checks, and in some ways it’s been a bit of a relief not to have to fit in our summer events programme, along with country shows and all of the schools we had booked in. On the other hand, I’ve missed not welcoming folk to Kielder. Thankfully almost all of the schools that we had to cancel this year are keen to re-arrange and come out next year. It is great to know that they still believe it’s important to get their pupils out into the countryside even if it is more of an effort now we’re living with Covid-19.

As a bit of a summary, we entered year five of Restoring Ratty in July. We have just one year left!  Thankfully, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has agreed for us to extend it for another six months to make up for furlough and staff underspend. We’re working hard on another bid to submit to the lottery for another Ratty-themed project, with deadlines for this next spring. We’re working closely with a student from the Imperial University at London who has been to Kielder to undertake some EDNA surveying in the waterways to test for water vole DNA. EDNA might help us in very inaccessible locations where we’re unable to survey on foot. We’re also taking advice from the University of Aberdeen regarding tweaking our survey techniques to enable us to analyse our data more effectively. This might lead to occupancy modelling so we can determine how successful our water vole releases have been and where we go from here.

It’s a bit of a long one this time, but thanks for reading! Kelly