Bringing back water voles to Eden
Part of project: Habitat improvement
Once a common sight in our rivers, water voles have vanished from much of Cumbria. In a bid to re-establish this small, yet vital part of the ecosystem, environmental organisations and landowners have joined forces to create the habitat conditions needed to bring back this much-loved creature to Cumbria.
In the summer of 2023, our hard work was rewarded as we completed the first phase of our re-introduction programme with 365 water voles released into their new homes.
Nationally, water voles are Britain’s fastest-declining mammal. Over the last century, they’ve gone from an estimated population of eight million to around 132,000. In that time, they have disappeared from 94% of sites where they once lived, including the Lake District.
They have been virtually wiped out in our patch – mainly due to habitat loss, pollution and the devastation caused by the rapid spread of the water vole’s nemesis; invasive, non-native American mink. Defenceless against the mink, whole colonies were swiftly decimated.
Our goal is to reintroduce this missing part of Eden’s ecosystem. However, the threats that led to their disappearance would need to be addressed before we could think about establishing any new populations.
Step 1 – creating suitable homes for water voles
We were awarded money from the Environment Agency’s Water Environment Improvement Fund (WEIF), The Moorhouse Fund (Cumbria Community Foundation) and The Hadfield Trust to work with landowners and volunteers to find suitable sites, make necessary improvements to habitats and take steps to control non-native predators ahead of the first re-introduction of water voles in the Lake District (Summer 2023).
Step 2 – Bringing ratty back part 1: summer 2023
Thanks to a partnership project between Eden Rivers Trust (lead partner), The Environment Agency and the Cumbria Connect programme, a total of 365 water voles were rehomed in the summer of 2023, split between Haweswater, managed by the RSPB and United Utilities and Lowther Estate.
To ensure a successful release, we have worked with water vole ecology specialists, Derek Gow Consultancy to find suitable sites and supply captive-bred voles that are closer to the genetic make-up of voles that would have once been more widespread in this part of Cumbria.
The water voles were released in sibling groups or as breeding pairs to maximise their chances of survival and hopefully to breed quickly to establish a population here in the Eden.
Our vision is to create a network of water vole populations that can survive and thrive throughout the Eden catchment.
Watch this space for news of more water vole releases!
Banner photo: Water vole release at RSPB at Haweswater courtesy of Wild Intrigue, Matthew Laverick