Friday 24th May 2013

Today, a new information board will be unveiled on banks of the Sharpness Canal, at Patch Bridge, Slimbridge. The board celebrates the culmination of work by three leading county environmental charities who have joined together to safeguard one of Gloucestershire’s most threatened species. Visitors to the area will now be able to learn more about water voles and identify the wildlife they see whilst walking along the towpath or cruising along the canal on their narrow boat.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, The Canal and River Trust and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) have been working together to protect and restore water vole habitat, following its discovery on the Sharpness Canal in 2010.

“The canal provides a vital ‘wildlife highway’ between populations that have been safeguarded as part of the Trusts Living Landscape Project and the strong population at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust headquarters at Slimbridge.”
said Del Jones, Severn Vale Living Landscapes Officer with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. 

We are delighted to have had the opportunity to work together with these other great charities to really make a difference and build upon the work we initiated through our Berkeley Vale water vole recovery project, supported by the Environment Agency.” 

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the Canal and River Trust installed new fencing along the canal edge to protect the water vole habitat and the grass cutting regime was altered to prevent disturbance and provide more shelter and food.

“Water voles are amazing creatures, furry, cute and shy, but also one the most endangered species in Britain.” Said Laura Plenty, ecologist at the Canal & River Trust.

We’re delighted they have set up home on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and hope the work we’ve carried out will give them the best chance of thriving in this area. Together with our local partners and all the volunteers who have worked on this project, we will watch their progress over the coming months with great interest.”

It is estimated that the water vole has declined by up to 90% on Gloucestershire’s waterways and organisations such as WWT Slimbridge are spearheading their protection. Dave Paynter, Reserve Manager at WWT Slimbridge, said: “We have already seen a massive increase in the number of water voles in this area thanks to this successful joint working initiative. 

“By working together we have managed to improve habitats for this species throughout the area, which has really enabled the water vole to make a strong comeback. 

“It is brilliant that once again the water vole is a regular sight along our waterways.”

Water voles are small mammals with dark chestnut-brown to black fur, which can be confused with the brown rat. The water vole, however, has a much blunter nose, smaller ears and a shorter hairy tail as well as very different feeding and burrowing behaviour.

The biggest threat to the survival of water voles is the American mink. This invasive non-native species can destroy an entire population in a river system in a very short time. They easily fit into the water vole burrows and can hunt them under water, where water voles would normally dive to escape a predator. In addition loss of habitat and inappropriate bankside management also add to the water voles’ decline.

The three charities will continue to monitor the water vole on this stretch of waterway, as well as working throughout the country on similar projects.