The water vole is dangerously at risk, having lost 70% of recorded populations between the late 80’s and late 90’s. Ratty has since been protected and is a Biodiversity Action Plan species but American mink continue to prevent his recovery.
At last a study and reintroduction program undertaken by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust seems to be turning the tide. After a £1.4m restoration project, funded by Defra on the Dore in Herefordshire and, crucially, the removal of mink from the area water voles have recolonised and
are thriving along the catchment.
Dr Jonathan Reynolds who has led the GWCT research explained, “Water voles can go extinct within weeks of mink reaching them. For the first time this project clearly demonstrates the art of the possible and shows that we can secure the future for water voles by controlling non-native mink.”
The problem for conservationists is the cost of implementing necessary mink removal. The GWCT’s use of mink rafts to detect and trap the invaders has made removal possible but costs in man-hours for monitoring them can top £300 per day. Technology is being trialled to reduce man-hours but Dr Reynolds asks “should we question the cost of restoring a native species in trouble?”
In spite of the financial cost this project has proved what can be achieved for water voles and other native species, according to Dr Reynolds “for the first time we have managed to turn back the clock, control an invasive species, previously regarded as difficult to control and restored native biodiversity.”
We must now hope that the success on the Dore can be
replicated in other areas.