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Immortalised as Ratty in Kenneth Graeme's the Wind in the Willows, water voles were once one of our most familiar mammals but their numbers have plummeted due to loss of habitat, unsuitable river management and predation by the North American Mink. This desperate situation has left the water vole vulnerable to extinction in many areas and conservation organisations such as Wildwood Trust are now desperately trying to save the species from disappearing altogether.
For this momentous project, Wildwood joined forces with Kent Wildlife Trust with the shared aim of re-establishing water voles on their old stomping ground of the River Darent, and to form a stronghold from which the species may eventually spread to populate the local area.
The project, funded by the Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust (ICET), was launched in 2011 when a team from Wildwood surveyed the site to assess its suitability for water voles. Unfortunately the habitat was found to be unsuitable and so Wildwood recommended a number of improvements, including land management methods and ways of monitoring and reducing the number of North American mink in the area. With the help of volunteers, Kent Wildlife Trust then undertook the laborious task of rejuvenating the site, whilst Wildwood concentrated on their long-term captive breeding programme in order to provide strong, healthy animals which would be suitable for release.
Sevenoaks Area Warden Paul Glanfield said, “From start to finish this project has been a real joint effort between KWT, Wildwood and ICET. I would especially like to thank all our hard working volunteer teams who have been involved in every aspect of the project.”
After 3 years of hard work the habitat was restored and Wildwood was then able to donate more than 50 water voles to establish a new population on the reserve. The animals have been introduced to the site via a method known as “soft-release” whereby they are placed into their new home in pens which they can return to for food and shelter until they acclimatise to their new surroundings. This gradual approach has been proven to give introduced animals the very best chance of succeeding in the wild and therefore establishing a thriving population.
Vicki Breakell, Wildwood’s Conservation Officer said, “We are thrilled to be able to work with Kent Wildlife Trust on this amazing project to restore water voles back to this area of Kent. Projects like this are at the very heart of Wildwood’s work as a conservation charity and we are delighted to be able to help in the fight to protect water voles for future generations
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