Monday 10th August 2015

(c) Iain Green(c) Iain Green

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT) and Natural England are celebrating the success of a special four-year project to save vulnerable populations of water vole around GWT’s Greystones Farm nature reserve, Bourton-on-the-Water.

The water vole, famously known as Ratty in The Wind In The Willows, is one of the UK’s most vulnerable mammals having suffered a dramatic decline in population due to loss of habitat and predation by the introduced American mink.

“Agricultural intensification, unsympathetic river management, drainage of wetland marshes/ponds and building development have all contributed to the loss of the water vole’s wetland habitat,” said Richard Spyvee, Living Landscapes project manager.

“The water vole is now so rare that the remaining populations are increasingly isolated and particularly vulnerable to further habitat loss, mink predation, flooding and excessive disturbance. So this work to join habitat together has not only been vital for their survival but benefitted other species such as otter, kingfisher and trout too.”

The four year project was designed and delivered by GWT and Natural England to enhance habitat so vulnerable and isolated populations could be joined together along the River Windrush in the Cotswolds. It involved surveying the whole River Windrush system in 2009/10 and then re-surveying 12 sites in 2014 and was only possible thanks to funding from Natural England, HLF, Grundon, Gloucestershire Environmental Trust, Biffa Award, DEFRA, WFD fund, Environment Agency, Montague Panton Animal Welfare Trust, the Friends of the Cotswolds and GWT’s Cotswold Rivers Patrons, proving that working in partnership gets great results!

Natural England’s Gloucestershire Team Leader, Peter Holmes, said “We welcomed the chance to work with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to secure water vole populations and wider river corridor restoration in the Windrush Valley. An innovative use of Higher Level Stewardship funding enabled Natural England to contribute £180,000 over four years, to enter or amend agreements with riverside owners to protect and enhance the river for voles and other wildlife, to support volunteer engagement and to monitor the results. The results speak for themselves.”

During the project GWT carried out extensive riverbank management work such as;
• pollarding and coppicing over-shading bankside trees to benefit marginal plants, which are crucial for providing food and shelter for water voles(17.5km)
• installing stock fencing to protect banks from livestock, which can damage water voles’ burrows and stunt marginal vegetation (12.8km)
• installing hazel faggots to stabilise and improve the structure of river banks
• restoring wet ditches to provide more habitats in which water voles can colonise (5.6k)

BEFORE: Water vole abundance on the Windrush







AFTER: Water vole abundance on the Windrush










The project has also been extremely successful in connecting Cotswold residents with their riverside heritage, and in harnessing local people’s enthusiasm and appreciation of their environment to restore riparian wildlife. An effective and steadily expanding core of local voluntary support (164 volunteers recruited so far) has been established, and this body has been very busy enhancing riverside habitats, taking advantage of learning and training opportunities and acting as ambassadors of our work within their communities. Since July 2012, an amazing 2,106.5 hours of volunteer work has been performed.

Community groups of all ages – from preschools, primary schools and colleges to WI’s and senior citizens’ groups – have been and are continuing to be involved, which is vital for the future of the water vole in the Cotswolds.