All you need is vole
BBOWT’S JULIA LOFTHOUSE WRITES ABOUT AWARD-WINNING WORK TO HELP WATER VOLES ON THE RIVER MISBOURNE
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.
Volunteers in the River Misboune