Once common across Britain, the water vole has seen a dramatic decline in numbers, with their population plummeting by almost 90% in recent years.
But the National Trust is seeking to turn this around on its land at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales, in what is believed to be the largest water vole reintroduction project ever carried out in Britain.
Once a common sight at the Tarn, it will be the first time in 50 years that voles will be seen here since their population was wiped out in the 1960s by predation from mink, believed to have escaped from nearby fur farms.
“Water voles once played an important part in the ecosystem at Malham Tarn,” explains Peter Welsh, ecologist for the National Trust in the Yorkshire Dales.
“Reintroducing them to the Tarn is just one of the ways we are working alongside our farmers and other partners to restore wildlife and natural processes in the Yorkshire Dales landscapes we care for.”
Understanding that these small mammals play an important role in the Tarn’s ecosystem, the National Trust has worked with ecological consultancy Derek Gow Consultancy to breed the voles in captivity specifically for their reintroduction into the fen.
The first phase of the project – taking place this year – will see the release of around 100 voles. A further 100 will then be released in June 2017.
Their release will help to restore a natural balance to the ecosystem of Malham Tarn in what is part of the National Trust’s new vision for land management in the Yorkshire Dales.
Once in the wild, the voles will graze and burrow into areas of the riverbank around the fen, creating space for plants such as mosses and liverworts that require open patches of habitat to flourish.
The mammals will also act as an important food source for predators such as barn owls and otters.