Water voles are fight­ing back

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - HERALD & POST -

SOME vis­i­tors to RSPB Saltholme re­cently have been very for­tu­nate to spot one of our rare and elu­sive mam­mals.

It’s the water vole, which suf­fered one of the most se­ri­ous declines of any Bri­tish mam­mal in the 20th Cen­tury. When I was a lad I can re­call the oc­ca­sional “plop” of a water vole en­ter­ing the water as I strolled along the banks of a stream. But I haven’t seen one for years. The last was maybe ten years ago, swim­ming nocha­lently in the River Leven at Great Ay­ton.

Num­bers in Bri­tain have been re­duced by around 90 per cent, with that peren­nial in­tro­duced pest the Amer­i­can mink be­ing named as the ma­jor cul­prit. Other causes are loss of habitat and pol­lu­tion.

For­tu­nately there has been a fight­back dur­ing the last few years, with

■ sev­eral char­i­ties in­tro­duc­ing mink elim­i­na­tion pro­grammes. Water qual­ity has also been grad­u­ally im­prov­ing.

Saltholme of­fi­cials have en­cour­aged water voles to visit their spe­cial feed­ing plat­form at the Wildlife Watch­point, which is where Mark Walpole took this photo.

While water voles are al­ways a de­light to be­hold, the beauty is that they are ac­tive dur­ing the day, which gives na­ture lovers a bet­ter chance of spot- ting them. An­other bonus is that they do not hi­ber­nate, so it’s a year around chance.

If you are walk­ing near water and hear the fa­mil­iar “plop”, even if you don’t spot the water vole, then it is al­ways worth­while in­form­ing an in­ter­ested con­ser­va­tion group who may be able to take steps to sup­port this par­tic­u­lar an­i­mal.

And, on the sub­ject of sup­port­ing wild crea­tures, make a note for your diary. Sun­day, Au­gust 7, is Hen Har­rier Day and per­son­ally I think it’s a very im­por­tant day. I was for­tu­nate enough to spot a male hen har­rier last year, at Hur­worth Burn Reser­voir, and the mem­o­ries will live with me for the rest opf my life.

But hen har­ri­ers are be­ing il­le­gally shot, hunted and trapped to the point of ex­tinc­tion in Eng­land. Eighty per cent of the birds which have been tagged since 2004 have “dis­ap­peared”.

It’s im­por­tant that or­di­nary peo­ple gain a voice to try to save this beau­ti­ful bird. A groundswell of pub­lic opin­ion can bring about dra­matic change.

The near­est Hen Har­rier Day aware­ness event to us is at Saltholme, and runs from 10.30am to 1.30pm. There will be spe­cial speak­ers and the more peo­ple who at­tend the bet­ter it may be for the hen har­rier.

Eric would like to hear from read­ers about what they have seen. Email him at eric.pay­[email protected]

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