Any of you Wind in the Willows fans? If so I am sure you will know that Ratty (seen here chortling away with Mole in Philip Mendoza’s delightful sketch) was a water vole, not really a rat at all although water voles were often called water rats – or water dogs!
But Ratty’s descendants are in desperate need of help. In his time there were around 8 million watervoles. Now, thanks to loss of habitat and invasive and predatory American minks, there are less than 100,000 of them left – a 95% decline since the 1970s.
According to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species ‘urbanisation of floodplains and a general increase in development have led to the direct loss of habitat and the loss of riverside vegetation. Heavy grazing by livestock not only causes the loss of riparian vegetation but also the poaching and trampling of banks, making them unsuitable for water voles.’
Meanwhile water voles are particularly vulnerable to predation by American mink, first brought to Britain in the 1920s for fur farms but breeding in the wild by the mid-1950s. ‘The water vole’s usual defence of diving underwater and kicking up a screen of dirt or running into their burrow are insufficient against mink. A female mink can fit into water vole burrows and can wipe out entire colonies and populations along water ways’ – and have done so all too often.
However, all is not lost. Mink are now being controlled on many waterways across Britain, riparian habitats are being restored and new populations of water voles are being introduced in specific protected sites.
The London Wildlife Trust has two of these, one at Crane’s Park Island in Richmond and one at Frays Farm Meadows in Uxbridge, and they want your help in getting the new population established.
- £20 could help pay for tools such as rakes and saws to maintain open habitat for voles
- £40 could help pay for kit such as chest waders so they can clear out ditches where machines can’t
- £60 could help them bring in heavy horses to restore ditch networks without damaging vole burrows