Bringing back the water vole

An introduction from Naturally Native Project Officer, Elliot Lea.

Some of my earliest memories are of family walks in the New Forest; watching dragonflies zipping over small ponds; almost stepping on a grass snake basking on the path and desperately trying to spot deer my dad had seen in this distance, often without success.  I now realise how fortunate I was to have had these encounters in my formative years, fuelling my love of nature and my eventual understanding of the need to conserve it.   

After studying Wildlife Management at Sparsholt College, I volunteered for Hampshire Wildlife Trust and Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, spending 18 months with the latter working as a Conservation Trainee and Seasonal Warden. Undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life, not least because it is where I met my Geordie wife who would introduce me to this beautiful part of the country.  More recently I have worked for Northumberland Wildlife Trust as a Red Squirrels Northern England, Ranger.  It has been a pleasure to have spent the past few years looking after one of Britain’s most threatened mammals, the red squirrel.  2020 was a year with very few positives but one for me was a noticeable increase in the number of red squirrels in the areas where I had been working.  To encounter red squirrel in a woodland where they have not been for several years, is one of the most rewarding sights!  Leaving this role was not an easy decision, however the chance to be a part of Naturally Native, conserving another of Britain’s most threatened mammals: the water vole, was an opportunity not to be missed. 

water vole swimming

WildNet - Amy Lewis

Whist I was exploring the New Forest as a child, unbeknown to me water voles were undergoing a dramatic decline. From 1989 to 1998 their population fell by almost 90%.  Intensification of agriculture in the 20th Century resulted in the loss and degradation of habitat, one of the two main threats water voles face.  This has been compounded by the introduction of invasive American mink from furs farms.  Unfortunately, water voles have no effective defence strategy against these non-native predators and the presence of American mink across the landscape has rapidly increased the rate of water vole decline.  Over the course of the project, I look forward to working alongside partners and local communities to tackle these two main threats so water voles can begin to expand their range in North East England. 

I was fortunate to grow up near a large National Park, but nature has the potential to be all around us if we look after it.  This is particularly true of water voles.  My hope is that children growing up across the North East, from the heart of Middlesbrough to the wilds of Kielder continue to have the opportunity to see water voles and be inspired by nature as I was. 

Visit our Naturally Native webpage to find out more about the Naturally Native project or follow us on Facebook.

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