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Water voles move back

The Water Vole Recovery Project completed 312 surveys in 2003, 120 of which were surveyed by volunteers. A fantastic effort was made by the volunteers, most of whom managed to complete the two or three surveys they were allocated. This sterling effort enabled the Water Vole Recovery Project, in many cases, to survey entire watercourses.

As well as providing vital information water vole surveying is great fun. This was shown by the numerous volunteers who contacted the project to say how much they had enjoyed taking part in the water vole survey and enquiring as to when they could start surveying again.

Volunteers helped to identify water vole colonies on the upper River Windrush, the River Kennet and Kennet and Avon Canal between Newbury and Hungerford and the River Pang. Two new water vole strongholds have been identified by volunteers at the Ewelme Watercress beds and in roadside ditches around Hurst near Wokingham. As water voles are still declining nationally the location of two new colonies in Berkshire and Oxfordshire is an important result and it is hoped that this trend will continue and more water vole populations will be found in 2004.

Locally, many of the water vole colonies identified in 2003 are still under threat from loss of habitat and mink predation. Watercourses that have seen dramatic declines in water voles include the Letcombe Brook, River Chess and the lower River Windrush. The survey results have been sent to all landowners along these watercourses to encourage them to manage their land with water voles in mind and to advertise the mink control schemes that the Water Vole Recovery Project runs.

New water vole surveys are planned for 2004 between April and August. Watercourses that are targeted for surveys include the Abingdon and Oxford areas, River Enbourne, River Kennet and Kennet and Avon Canal (between Reading and Newbury), River Blackwater and Thames Cut at Bracknell. In Buckinghamshire the Water Vole Recovery Project is working with the Milton Keynes Parks Trust to survey watercourses within the city boundaries. Training courses are being run in Oxford, Dinton Pastures Country Park near Wokingham and Englefield. Anyone wishing to volunteer should contact Catharine Shellswell at BBOWT Head Office (01865 775476).