Most people associate the use of CCTV camera technology with catching speeding motorists and street surveillance. However, we've been using hidden cameras to help track the movements of the UK's fastest declining mammal, the water vole.
Laura Plenty, Canal & River Trust ecologist, explains: “The water vole is such a special creature but it is threatened by a combination of habitat loss and predation by American mink. We've been working hard to create the right habitat for water voles to survive and reverse the decline in their population.
“We knew there were some colonies of water voles on the canal near Devizes, but during a maintenance visit to a different site on the Caen Hill Flight, we spotted a water vole ‘latrine' which is basically a big pile of droppings, and decided it would be a fantastic place to test out our heat and motion sensitive camera to catch them in the act!”
The shy water vole needs a particular habitat to thrive. They like to live along canals and rivers where dense vegetation and steep banks offer both food and protection from predators. As a nationally protected species we have a duty to ensure our maintenance of the nation's historic waterways protects fragile water vole colonies.
Laura continues: “The Canal & River Trust, with the help of many volunteers, spends a lot of time and money caring for the canal for the benefit of people and wildlife. Viewing the footage of the vole proves that this hard work has been worthwhile. The fact that there's a new colony of voles living on the canal is the best reward we could ask for.”
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This summer we spent eight weeks rebuilding a 500m stretch of the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath and soft bank near Pewsey, Wiltshire, using an innovative design which creates the perfect home for water voles. The work benefits a range of other wildlife too, like dragonflies, butterflies and nesting birds. It also helps stabilise the canal bank securing the towpath, making it better for boaters, walkers and cyclists.
Tamsin Phipps, chair of the Canal & River Trust's Kennet & Avon Waterway Partnership said: “It costs around £138,000 to improve just one mile of canal bank and we're appealing for people and organisations to help us ensure the canal remains a great place for wildlife now and in the future. Everyone benefits from this important work.”
We're asking the public to support our ‘Give a vole a home' appeal. Just £3 could provide four reed plants to be used by the team rebuilding the water vole friendly habitat. For more details about how to give and what your money will be used for visit www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/volehome