The Daily Telegraph
Water voles make a comeback in an uplifting tale of the riverbank
Rodents were wiped out in New Forest in 1998 when animal activists released mink from nearby fur farm
WATER voles are poised to recolonise streams and rivers in the New Forest, 24 years after they were wiped out when 7,000 mink were released from a fur farm by animal rights activists.
Members of the Animal Liberation Front who raided the farm in Ringwood, Hants, in 1998 broke open cages to free the American mink.
At the time ecologists condemned their actions, insisting that the invasive mink would endanger native wildlife that could take years to recover.
About 2,000 of the liberated animals were shot or run over by farmers and landowners or caught in traps.
The UK’S water vole population has declined massively in recent years because of habitat loss, building projects and pollution, but in the New Forest they were obliterated by the voracious predators.
It has taken more than two decades for the mink to decline to a level that experts deem safe for the water voles to be reintroduced. Ecologists at the Environment Agency have released 50 voles bred in captivity into a stream at an undisclosed location, near Ringwood, where a handful of voles that had to be relocated from a waterway in Salisbury live.
Another 50 of the semi-aquatic rodents will be taken to the same location in spring.
It is hoped they will breed quickly and recolonise the New Forest’s waterways. By 2027, it is estimated that their numbers will have grown to 1,000.
Andy Wallis, of the Environment Agency, said: “Over the last 40 years the water vole population has dropped by 90 per cent.
“They are one of the most endangered species in the UK.”
Coral Edgcumbe, an ecologist involved in the project, said: “In the 1990s 7,000 mink were released from a fur farm just up the road and that decimated the local population of water voles.
“Although the mink are declining, water voles can’t recolonise without help. They are an important species in wetlands and create habitat for a number of other species.”
Water voles are Britain’s fastest declining mammal and are protected by law.
Ms Edgcumbe added: “If we do nothing to help the endangered species, biodiversity
‘The water vole is becoming a lost species so it is really important that we support their return’
in the country is going to really suffer. This is one small step to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“The water vole is becoming a lost species so it is really important that we help support their return to their natural habitat. I am really hopeful that in a year’s time the population will be on the increase and the area will be full of them.”