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Water Voles to be Reintroduced in Northumberland Forest

Jan 27, 2013 06:36 AM EST
Water voles
Water vole
(Photo : University of Oxford, U.K.)

Water voles, one of Britain's most endangered mammals, are all set to make a return to a Northumberland forest.

Conservationists at Kielder Water & Forest Park are working on a project to reintroduce the water voles, which were last seen more than 30 years ago.

"Areas like Kielder Burn and the North Tyne are good water vole habitats so we have a two-part plan which will hopefully see them return to former haunts," Forestry Commission ecologist Tom Dearnley told BBC.

"Water voles have suffered big declines across England, so returning them to the forest is something we are extremely keen to see happen," he said.

The species, which was once commonly found, has disappeared in many parts of the country. Factors like agricultural practices, infrastructure development, and predation by the American mink have all contributed to the population decline of water voles.

In particular, the American mink has been touted as the reason for the native species' previous decline. Mink, which was introduced in Great Britain in the early 20th century for fur farming, became widespread by the middle of the 20th century. They feed on a wide variety of prey including water voles. Ever since the animal was established in the country, the population of water voles has rapidly declined.

Earlier studies have already pointed out that it is vital to keep water voles and the invasive mink population apart, if efforts to reintroduce the water voles have to be successful. One of the significant steps for the recovery of the native species is to create "mink free zones."  

In a bid to enable the water voles' recovery, staff at the Kielder Water & Forest Park will first determine if any mink remain in the region. Officials assume that the population of mink is likely very low at the park, with only few species spotted by rangers in the recent years. 

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