Water voles feared to be ‘functionally extinct’ in Surrey

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A century ago there were eight million voles in Britain but they are declining and Surrey Wildlife Trust has revealed they could soon be extinct in Surrey

REBECCA SHEPHERD


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A Water Vole

Water voles are feared to be “functionally extinct” in Surrey after the last recorded sighting was eight years ago.

Once the commonest British mammal with eight million water voles in the UK a century ago, Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) has now explained that they are the “fastest declining mammal” after no evidence of the creatures have been found in the county’s waterways.

Not to be confused with rats, water voles are a similar size and brown in colour, however it has a blunt nose, its tail is furry and it has small ears.

In bygone times they could often be seen paddling across still pools, nibbling lush bankside vegetation or disappearing down holes in banks.

However the mammals were last recorded in Surrey in 2008 and recent evidence collected by SWT suggests they have suffered a “catastrophic decline” across Britain, disappearing from 94% of their former sites.

One reason given for their decline in Surrey is due to predation and habitat loss.

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Jonathan Dye, river search volunteer on the hunt for water voles in Surrey

Alex Learmont Surrey Wildlife Trust

During 2015, SWT established the Water Vole Recovery Project to record sightings, revitalise riverbank habitat, advise on river and ditch management, and where necessary, coordinate mink control.

The aim of the project is to re-establish a water vole population or re-introduce them if necessary.

To date, a total of 64 water vole surveys have been carried out by the team and 37 trained volunteers.

Forty-four surveys took place on sites with past records of water voles and the remaining 20 were on areas either with suitable water vole habitat or anecdotal records of the species.

The team are now asking for people to come forward if they spot the furry creatures.

Alex Learmont, water vole project officer, said: “We are very concerned that the Water Vole could be functionally extinct in Surrey.

“SWT has already been working hard with dedicated volunteers through catchment partnerships by restoring our degraded rivers, managing bankside vegetation and monitoring pollution levels”.

“We are extremely grateful to all those who have helped us so far in our surveys, but would welcome even more residents to get involved either by taking part in surveys or submitting sightings which will help with our aim to restore these delightful mammals to their rightful place on our waterways”

To report a sighting visit www.surreywildlifetrust.org or contactalex.learmont@surreywt.org.uk.

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