A LESSER-spotted river animal could become more of a frequent site in the coming years thanks to a new national project.

A drive to monitor the levels of water voles and help conserve their habitats has been launched and also received the backing of an East Lancashire-based conservation group.


The National Water Vole Monitoring Programme is being run by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and is being backed by the Ribble Rivers Trust which is based in Clitheroe.

Once a familiar sight along our waterways, water voles have rapidly disappeared from much of the landscape, experiencing a decline over the last century.

The drop in numbers is being put down to the release and spread of non-native mink across the countryside, and also the loss and degradation of many waterways.

The new scheme is in collaboration with The Wildlife Trusts, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, Environment Agency, Natural England and RSPB.

Through the the project the organisers hope to bring together all the work that is being carried out across the country, as well as monitor selected historical sites, to establish any changes in the population and to help guide future conservation efforts.

Jack Spees, the director of the Ribble Rivers Trust, said: "This is a fantastic project and follows many of the principals that we use in our own schemes.

"Through our Invasive Species Project we monitor the spread of mink in Lancashire and try to diminish their impact on water voles but also fish and birds.

"The situation in Lancashire for water voles is not good at all and they are in real danger.

"Their numbers are very low and I hope that these kind of projects will put an end to this downward trend."

The new scheme is calling for volunteers to get involved by conducting an annual field survey on a single site and while no experience is required, those taking part will need to learn how to identify water vole field signs.

Emily Thomas, who is coordinating the programme, said: “In the last couple of decades conservation groups have been working hard to try and save the much loved water vole, however it’s difficult to track the overall effectiveness of this work without seeing how the national picture has changed since the 1990s.

"The National Water Vole Monitoring Programme will show us where water voles are and in what numbers, as well as where they’ve disappeared, allowing us plan and carry out effective conservation actions that will really make a difference to water voles.”

For more information visit www.ptes.org/watervoles.