The long hours of sunlight invite growth of lush, dense and varied vegetation along the banks of rivers and streams.
A quiet observer may notice a slight quiver in the tall stands accompanied by a comically audible munching. Suddenly, all hidden activity ceases until the stillness is broken by a distinctive ‘plop’ as the water vole makes its exit beneath the water surface.
Sadly this idyllic impression of bankside summertime is an all too rare occurrence in the 21st century. The native water vole, Britain’s fastest declining mammal, is on the brink of survival in the lowlands of the North East. Last year our team of trained volunteers and ecologists gathered data on the condition of water vole populations and their habitat across the Tyne, Wear and Tees river catchments. Their findings concluded that in the upland areas known populations of water voles remain stable, although they are not expanding their ranges. Sadly, the lowland water voles are not faring so well and remaining populations are becoming increasingly isolated and vulnerable. The combination of loss of suitable habitat and predation from non-native American mink has devastated water vole populations across the UK; our local water voles are no exception.
The good news is help for these charismatic mammals is within touching distance as earlier this year we compiled a region-wide strategy to halt the decline and aid recovery of water voles across the Tyne, Wear and Tees river catchments. We are delighted to announce that a National Lottery Heritage Fund application to deliver this work (in partnership with Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Tees Valley Wildlife Trust) over the next three years has been successful, with more than £500,000 awarded to the Naturally Native project.
Let’s hope summers to come will bring serene moments in which we can enjoy and celebrate the return of ‘Ratty’ to our region.