Darren Tansley, Chair of the UK Water Vole Steering Group

These are just some of the things that are happening at present through the various members of the Steering Group. There are many ongoing issues that are pretty open ended. This year (2018), at the Water Vole Conference in Hexham in October a number of topics will be handled:

Incorporate water vole conservation into relevant habitat policies and agri-environment schemes: Ensure that development schemes do not affect the integrity of water vole populations.

Through the Government’s 25 Year Plan we are pushing for a more connected approach to land use, connecting farming and wildlife into a connected whole. We’d argue that connectivity of habitat is essential to the survival of water vole. I appeared on the Today Programme earlier this year to argue that projects like the proposed road extension through the Gwent Levels are totally unacceptable for this very reason. We have to protect these regionally important ecological networks for water voles to have any future.

Where necessary employ appropriate mink control as a conservation tool to protect large breeding water vole populations.

We have two regional level schemes at present – the Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS) has been developing the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) which covers about 29000km2 and employs people via large-scale funding bids to deliver the work. This is by far the largest project in the UK, and has operated in the past, although there was a gap in funding at one stage. The Eastern Region Mink and Water Vole Project operates across approx 12000km2 and having started in 2002 is the longest continually running mink control project of this scale in the UK. However it operates using volunteers and landowners coordinated by county Wildlife Trusts, County Councils and other partners with very small amounts of funding, mainly to provide equipment. The two models have strengths and weaknesses, but as they develop we are hoping to get some form of model that could be rolled out across the UK. I’ll be talking more about this at Hexham and also the Mammal Society Conference in November. As an aside we are now in the process of setting up a Suffolk Mink Database to link the existing ones in Norfolk and Essex. This will allow us to plan strategically at both a county and regional level and provide live mapping and raft data to the Environment Agency for their mink raft permitting system.

Ensure that the relative status and distribution of the water vole in Britain is monitored through repeats of the national baseline survey, together with general catchment-based surveys in each region, to determine the extent of the water vole populations and level of fragmentation of suitable habitat.

This is now operating via the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme hosted by PTES (a member of the Steering Group). It is now in its third year and we are trying to promote this repeat survey model as the best way to understand the losses and gains across the UK. All the data feeds into the Water Vole Mapping and Database Project which was set up by the steering group in 2008 and provided the 10-year report (2006-2015) earlier this year highlighting a further 30% decline. We are at the beginning of the National Monitoring Project, but this has been a vital step in understanding the state of water voles and we hope will go from strength to strength as more people take on sites.

Darren Tansley BSc (hons) MCIEEM
Chair of the UK Water Vole Steering Group
River Catchment Coordinator
Water for Wildlife Project (Essex)
Essex Wildlife Trust