A MAJOR reintroduction of around 300 water voles to Kielder Forest began on Wednesday after an absence of three decades.
A total of 700 will be introduced in total, following a second release in August, making it the largest water vole reintroduction to one place ever undertaken in the UK.
The aim is to restore populations of this endangered mammal to the Kielder catchment of the North Tyne with a view to their eventual spread throughout the western reaches of Northumberland.
The Kielder Water Vole Partnership project is bringing back a much-loved British species – one that won people’s hearts with the character of Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic Wind in the Willows – to a key area which had thriving water vole populations up until the 1980s.
Kelly Hollings of Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Restoring Ratty project said: “Water voles belong here and are an essential element of our wild and watery places. It’s terribly sad to have witnessed such huge declines of this lovely mammal in my lifetime.
“We’re doing everything we can to help bring them back and we’re so grateful to all those who are supporting our work.”
Mike Pratt, Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s chief executive added: “This is an historic day for everyone involved and it’s a good moment to reflect on the fantastic efforts and great work being done by volunteers and the Restoring Ratty partners to bring back this much-loved mammal. We’re improving habitats on our own nature reserves and working alongside a number of organisations and land owners to bring back water voles right across the county.”
Tom Dearnley, Ecologist with Forestry Commission England said: “After several years of the three partners working closely together with the local community, we have created the perfect environment for water voles to be reintroduced in Kielder Water and Forest Park.
“Thanks to the project officers, rangers, foresters and volunteers we will soon see water voles thriving in Kielder again.”
This first release at Kielder Water and Forest Park is of water voles bred from those taken from stable populations over the border in Scotland, while the second will be the young from voles captured in the North Pennines in late summer 2016.