All you need is vole

BBOWT’S JU­LIA LOFTHOUSE WRITES ABOUT AWARD-WIN­NING WORK TO HELP WA­TER VOLES ON THE RIVER MIS­BOURNE

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - WILD LIFE -

THERE are only two nat­u­ral pop­u­la­tions of wa­ter voles that we know of left in the whole of Buck­ing­hamshire.

Both in­habit the chalk streams of the Chilterns. One pop­u­la­tion lives on the lower River Mis­bourne down­stream of Chal­font St Peter and the other on the not-too-dis­tant River Chess.

Last year the En­vi­ron­ment Agency had fund­ing to in­vest in im­prov­ing the bio­di­ver­sity of the River Mis­bourne and so ap­proached me to man­age a project to en­hance the river for wildlife with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the wa­ter voles and brown trout liv­ing there.

Work­ing in part­ner­ship with the Wild Trout Trust and lo­cal landown­ers and man­agers, in­clud­ing Buck­ing­hamshire County Coun­cil Coun­try Parks Team and Ground­work South, we de­vel­oped an am­bi­tious project to en­hance 1km of the chalk stream.

The first step was to carry out ex­ten­sive tree works which re­duced shad­ing and opened the stream up so that grasses and plants could de­velop on the river banks and in the chan­nel.

A host of wildlife are de­pen­dent on such veg­e­ta­tion, with wa­ter voles re­ly­ing on it for both food and cover from their nu­mer­ous preda­tors. Rather than re­move all the cut t tim­ber and scrub from site, we e made good use of it to cre­ate log de­flec­tors and new brush­wood berms (raised banks) in the river chan­nel.

Over a two week pe­riod project part­ners pro­vided a to­tal of seven­teen staff and vol­un­teers who were trained in and helped to de­liver these tech­niques.

This re­sulted in an im­proved di­ver­sity of habi­tats avail­able, in­tro­duc­ing cing pools and rif­fles (shal­low ow ar­eas of the river) and restor­ing ing many fea­tures typ­i­cal of a chalk alk stream.

In other ar­eas branches were used to cre­ate ‘dead hedges’ to pro­tect ar­eas of eroded banks from fur­ther foot­fall.

A new back-wa­ter was cre­ated off the main River Colne, just up­stream of where the River Mis­bourne joins, to pro­vide ex­tra habi­tat away from the main river where voles and other wildlife might take refuge.

A se­ries of large brush­wood berms were cre­ated along the river banks; these have al­ready been colonised by plants and grasses to of­fer bet­ter bank­side habi­tat.

As the project de­vel­oped it be­came ev­i­dent that there was more to con­sider than just wildlife.

Work­ing through Den­ham Coun­try Park, we were aware that although it was im­por­tant that some ar­eas of river bank were pro­tected from ero­sion by peo­ple and dogs, we didn’t want to stop peo­ple from en­joy­ing the river. So we cre­ated a new beach area out­side the vis­i­tor cen­tre where peo­ple could safely ac­cess and en­joy the stream and where school groups could carry out river dip­ping ac­tiv­i­ties. Visit­ing th the stream this sum­mer it was g great to see fam­i­lies en­joy­ing a pic­nic on the ‘beach ‘beach’ and groups of chil­dren pad­dling in the wat wa­ter. Our re­cent wa­ter vo vole sur­veys recorded ac ac­tiv­ity through the newly cre­ated habi­tat and, for the first time in many years, back o on the River Colne. My hope is that in th the com­ing years vol voles will con­tinue thei their pas­sage along the Colne Colne, even­tu­ally link­ing up with the wa­ter voles on the River Chess C to cre­ate a larger, more sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion. The river en­hance­ment project was re­cently recog­nised with a na­tional award, com­ing run­ner-up in the ‘Nat­u­ral En­vi­ron­ment’ category of the Canal and River Trust’s Liv­ing Wa­ter­ways Awards. Den­ham Coun­try Park rangers and their vol­un­teers will be on hand to main­tain the new habi­tat into the fu­ture and with events such as river dip­ping and scav­enger boat rac­ing planned to make use of the beach area and the river, the newly im­proved River Mis­bourne should be en­joyed by both peo­ple and wa­ter voles for many years to come.

WILDLIFE TROUT TRUST

Vol­un­teers in the River Mis­boune

TIM MAR­SHALL

Wa­ter vole

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