Water vole habitat surveys conclude

A year-long survey for one of Britain’s most under-threat mammals; the water vole has concluded this month. Water voles are just one of several declining species of British mammal and along with hedgehogs have become an increasingly rare sight in the countryside. The Meres and Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme have worked in partnership with Canal and Rivers Trust and Shropshire Wildlife Trust to monitor sections of canal and river in north Shropshire to find out how much suitable habitat remains. Overall, 18 people have been involved with the surveys and have examined a combined 70 kilometres of rivers and canals, including sections of the River Perry and Montgomery Branch canal.

Water voles of the Meres and MossesWater voles have suffered a dramatic decline in recent years, due in part to a lack of suitable habitat and food plants. These aquatic mammals; made famous by the character Ratty in the Wind in the Willows series are predominantly vegetarian and depend on plants such as grasses, sedges and reeds to feed upon all year round. They are often the victim of dredging of ditches and waterways as their burrow systems are often destroyed during the dredging process.

The surveys for water voles primarily involved looking for water vole signs along river banks and canal edges, both by canoe and on foot. Canoes have been supplied for the survey by Sue Tuerena Outdoor Adventure, which is based in the north of Shropshire and has a long standing relationship with the Meres and Mosses. Along the 70 kilometres surveyed, plenty of suitable habitat was found along stretches of both the Llangollen and Montgomery Branch canals, in addition to the River Perry. In May, the survey was even featured on BBC’s Countryfile and the survey volunteers from Reaseheath College were joined by presenter Ellie Harrison for a few hours to look for water voles latrines, burrows and feeding stations

Luke Neal, Community Officer for the Meres and Mosses LPS concluded “overall, the surveys have been a great success, with a huge area being covered. The next step will be to work with our partners again to improve connectivity between suitable sections of canal and river, to ensure that our water voles have a fighting chance of continued survival”.  The Meres and Mosses area has one of the last water vole strongholds in the UK and could become one of the most important areas in England for holding water vole habitat. There are other survey groups also involved with the continued monitoring of water voles; the Whitchurch Community Water Vole Project has run for over 20 years and recently the Ellesmere Water Vole Group has formed to monitor voles around Ellesmere.

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The Meres and Mosses area is the second largest natural network of ponds and wetlands in England (the Lake District is the largest)

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