Happy Birthday Ratty!
PUBLISHED: 17:19 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 February 2013
Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust takes a closer look at the water vole...
Next month sees the 100th anniversary of 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame. Grahame's much loved book features a number of animal characters including Toad, Mole, Badger and Ratty - a water vole. It was published in October 1908 and there have since been many adaptations of the book - for stage, film and TV. It has seen numerous reprints and been translated into every language imaginable. For one of his main characters, things have changed dramatically since the book was written.
Today we may be about to lose dear old 'Ratty' forever. The water vole, once widespread in our rivers, has declined in Britain in both numbers and distribution during the last century and in some parts of Britain is now extinct. Over the past 15 years it has suffered one of the most dramatic declines of any mammal species ever known in the UK, with populations falling by an estimated 95 per cent.
Suffering from a combination of threats - from polluted waterways and insufficient suitable habitat, to mink predation and changes in land use that no longer suit water voles - this endearing little creature is facing a serious struggle. Nationally, water voles are classified as being in need of protection and in Hertfordshire HMWT is leading the delivery of the county's water vole Species Action Plan, which forms a part of the national drive to protect them. We have been working with our partners to revive water vole populations. Although we've made steady progress, the threats to water voles are still very real, so 399,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been very welcome. Apart from helping us build on our existing experience, the grant allows us to focus on five sites across the county; Purwell Ninesprings Nature Reserve near Hitchin (Purwell Valley), Tewinbury Nature Reserve, near Welwyn Garden City (Mimram Valley), Silvermeade, near Broxbourne (Lee Valley), Frogmore Meadows Nature Reserve near Sarrat (Chess Valley), Cassiobury Park Nature Reserve in Watford (Colne Valley).
At these sites we will be working to improve access and accessibility. At the three 'wetland havens' located close to towns (Purwell, Cassiobury Park and Silvermeade), we will also be specifically developing site-based interpretation, discovery trails and events. We will also be organising volunteer work parties, surveyor training, community group and individual training events, highlighting the habitat needs and ecology of water voles. The grant has also helped us increase our 'Wetlands for Water Voles and People' project team to three staff.
The Trust is also interested in hearing about your sightings and signs of water voles and mink across the county. With hard work and commitment we are looking forward to seeing a significant improvement in the water vole's fortunes.