THE 1,000th water vole has been released into streams surrounding Kielder Reservoir this week.

A further 240 voles were introduced into the area as part of the ‘Restoring Ratty’ project, bringing the total to 1,205 animals since 2017.

The released voles have been bred in captivity from creatures captured in the Pennines, North Yorkshire, and Scotland.

‘Restoring Ratty’ is a partnership between Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry England, the Tyne Rivers Trust, and Kielder Water and Forest Park.

The project, is made possible by a £421,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and is now in its fourth year.

Graham Holyoak, Restoring Ratty project officer said: “Over the past two years we have learnt so much about water voles from the past four releases.

“Knowledge such as the fact that water voles will happily stay where they have been released and form populations if they are in very narrow burns, whilst on bigger streams a few will stay but many tend to disperse more.

“All of this will help form our future water vole conservation effort.”

By the end of the year, around 1,400 water voles will have been released into the wild.

The release also marked the end of a year-long university placement with the Northumberland Wildlife Trust for Joel Ireland, a student at Trent University. Joel celebrated the end of the year by releasing his first water vole.

He said: “This is a great project to have been involved in and releasing my first water vole was such a wonderful way to end what has been a great year with Northumberland Wildlife Trust.”

The signs suggest that the water voles released in the last two years are thriving, with some travelling 12km away from their release site.

Volunteers are currently out and about looking for signs of more voles. The animals seem to be doing particularly well at a site near Kielder campsite. It’s hoped this year’s mild winter will mean a higher survival rate for the voles, and a good breeding season. Up to 80 per cent of a population can be lost in bad winters.

The water vole is thought to be Britain’s fastest declining mammal, due to habitat loss, poor wetland management, and the introduction of the American Mink.