Naturally Native Volunteers meet Restoring Ratty Volunteers for a Grand Day Out!

Water voles were once a common sight across the North East on a variety of water courses and wetland areas. Sadly today they are one of Britain’s most vulnerable mammals, and remaining populations in the North East are isolated and fragile.

Thanks to players of the National Lottery, we are developing a strategy for a water vole conservation programme which will halt the decline of water voles – and aid their recovery – across the whole of the North East. Throughout May – September this year, our Naturally Native Water Vole Volunteers will be surveying a whole range of different sites to gather a more accurate record of existing population locations and sizes.

Fortunately for the water voles help is also coming from the North! Restoring Ratty, funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is being delivered by Northumbrian Wildlife Trust in partnership with Tyne River Trust and Forestry England to re-introduce water voles to Kielder Water and Forest Park.  Our Naturally Native Volunteers took a trip to join their volunteer comrades at Kielder, to learn more about the Restoring Ratty project and some of the challenges the volunteers have had to overcome since their project started in 2016.

And the news from the North is positive! The joint force of volunteers surveyed one of Kielder’s release sites from last year and found fresh evidence of water vole activity –signifying that the new releases are settling well into their new home.

Water vole swimming: Tom Marshall

A main threat for water voles is predation from the North American mink (Neovison vison) which was introduced to Britain in the 20s and have since been dispersing across the UK, causing an alarming amount of damage to populations of ground nesting birds as well as water voles.  The Restoring Ratty volunteers use clay-lined mink rafts to monitor mink tracks in the area, and were only too pleased to take the Naturally Native Volunteers on mink-patrol with them.

Kirsty Pollard, Naturally Native Development Manager said: “Volunteers are perhaps one of the Wildlife Trust’s most valuable resources and it is fantastic to have opportunities like this to learn from each other’s experiences, working in the field to conserve wildlife. We have exciting plans for how Naturally Native and Restoring Ratty will work together to ensure water voles will once again thrive in the North East, and we are delighted to have such enthusiastic and committed volunteers at the heart of this work.”

If you would like to join our volunteer team, to carry out water vole surveys and help monitor for mink, then please email Kirsty,  kpollard@durhamwt.co.uk.

Naturally Native is a partnership project which is being delivered by Durham Wildlife Trust, Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, with thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.