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News article created on 8 April 2015

Newbury volunteers create luxury homes for rare water voles

Volunteers in Newbury have created new luxury waterside apartments for the country’s fastest declining mammal as part of a project to improve the towpath along the Kennet & Avon Canal.

The volunteers have planted water vole friendly coir rolls along the bank of the canal, that protect against erosion. At the same time they provide food and shelter for the animals known to live on this popular part of the canal. 

Water voles are a protected species. Although they are still found in and around the waterways, without good habitats vole colonies are even more exposed to predators and can become small and isolated. The UK water vole population has fallen by over 90% since the 1970s, largely as a result of habitat loss and predation by mink. Our projects are aiming to help reverse the trend.

Small, fluffy and very cute 

Oda Dijksterhuis, ecologist at the Canal & River Trust, said: “Water voles are among the real characters of the waterways. They are small, fluffy and very cute, but they desperately need our support to continue to live in this area, so projects like these are fantastic for them. The coir roles are mats made from coconut husks and then planted with water loving plants that naturally occur in this area. The voles then use the new canal bank and lush vegetation into to make their burrows and can live quite happily amongst the boaters, walkers and cyclists.

“If you’re lucky you might spot them whilst walking along the canal, but you’ll have to be quiet as they are quite shy. You’re more likely to hear the ‘plop’ sound they make when they jump into the canal before they dive underwater and swim to their burrows.”

The volunteers in Newbury are part of a Towpath Taskforce who meet regularly to give back to their local waterway. Projects the Taskforce complete include litter picking, painting, towpath maintenance, repairs to listed structures, creating wildlife habitats and tree planting, among others.