Water voles, the country’s fastest declining mammal, are to receive a £25,000 lifeline on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Lancashire to help join up isolated colonies and improve their chances of romance and survival.
Immortalised as Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, the water vole is a protected species in the UK with the population having fallen by 95% since the 1970s due to loss of habitation and predation by mink.
A survey by the Canal & River Trust and Lancashire Wildlife Trust has identified colonies of water voles on the canal in the Rufford area in Sollom and below St Mary’s marina near Rufford Old Hall.
Now thanks to £25,000 from players of People’s Postcode Lottery a 220 metre section of the canal bank is being repaired and will be planted up to provide cover for the water voles to help bring these isolated colonies together and increase their long term chances of survival.
The work involves laying two metre-lengths of coir rolls pre-planted with aquatic plants along the canal edge to provide cover for water voles. It will allow them to meet up for romance using the cover of the plants to avoid predators.
Canal & River Trust ecologist for the North West Stephen Leigh said: “The good news is that our survey revealed that we have pockets of water voles on the Leeds & Liverpool canal in the Rufford area. What we need to do now is ensure that we provide the best possible habitat to ensure their survival.
“We can do this by using the pre-planted coir rolls to link these pockets of population together so that they can breed more easily. By providing vegetation along the canal bank we are able to extend the water voles’ territory and improve their chances of romance and survival.
“The work we will be doing will enhance the canal bank habitat providing water loving plants for the voles to eat and enable them to burrow into banks, forming intricate systems of underground tunnels and nesting chambers.
“This work isn’t just good for water voles, it will help protect the canal side and ensure people can continue to enjoy the amazing wildlife that lives in and around the canal.”
Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery said: “Made famous by Ratty in The Wind of the Willows, the water vole is struggling and we must work hard to ensure that, for future generations, their only knowledge of this charismatic creature isn’t just a reference in a book. I’m thrilled that players of People’s Postcode Lottery, through their support of Canal & River Trust, are helping to ensure the water vole doesn’t disappear from our landscape.”
It is hoped that further stages can be developed including additional areas for soft banking, carefully controlling overhanging trees, installing visitor awareness information and building some mink rafts to monitor the populations in the area and create an action plan for controlling their impact on the water vole.