Endangered water voles given a new sanctuary in South Yorkshire

Environmental consultancy Ecus Ltd has joined forces with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) to provide a new home for more than 20 water voles.

The decision to relocate the voles was not taken lightly, said Ecus, and was undertaken as a last resort after all options for retaining them on or near their original location were exhausted.

Essential road repairs in Sykehouse, Doncaster resulted in the loss of the original habitat for the endangered species so experts from Sheffield-based Ecus Ltd were commissioned by DMBC to identify a suitable new home for them.

The water voles have now successfully been released into a newly created habitat at the YWT’s Potteric Carr Nature Reserve where they will live safely in the reedbeds making rugby ball shaped nests out of old reed stems.

Through in-depth ecological surveys, Ecus identified Potteric Carr as having an ideal mosaic of habitats providing a safe haven for water voles. The location was carefully selected to ensure it was within proximity to existing ditch and wetland habitats. In addition, a brand new section of ditch was created ideally suited to the needs of water voles.

The work to create the new area, which was funded by DMBC with design and construction led by the Ecus Environmental Contracting Team, provides deep water and burrowing banks and has been specially planted to ensure their new home provides sufficient shelter, cover and food. The site has been regularly monitored since its creation and has been maturing for the past nine months to ensure it was in prime condition prior to the release.

Stuart Silver, associate director at Ecus Ltd, said: “This is a great example of what can be achieved through collaborative working. The willingness of all parties to work together has provided the best possible outcome for the water voles ensuring they now have a viable and long term future.

“The water voles, which were previously surviving in a road side ditch suffering repeated bank collapse, were carefully trapped under licence from Natural England by our ecology team last autumn to allow the essential highway repair works to be undertaken. They then spent the winter in a specialist ‘water vole hotel’ facility run by M & H Ecology prior to their recent release. The decision to relocate the water voles was not taken lightly and only undertaken as a last resort after all options for retaining them on, or nearby their original location were exhausted.”

Jim Horsfall, YWT reserves officer for South Yorkshire, said: “We are delighted to offer a home for water voles and to work with Doncaster Council and Ecus Environmental Consultants to boost the population at Potteric Carr. Moving animals from an existing, good habitat should be a last resort but water voles take readily to a new site if the conditions are right. This was the only option as the road at Sykehouse had to be repaired.”

Cllr Chris McGuinness, Cabinet for Communities, the Voluntary Sector and Environment, said: “I am delighted we have created a new home for these water voles at Potteric Carr. Water voles are a protected species and it was vital that we do all we can to maintain their numbers here in Doncaster. I am sure they will enjoy their new habitat and settle in well.”

The UK’s water vole population remains under serious threat from habitat fragmentation and predation by the non-native American mink and has suffered a drastic decline after mink began escaping fur farms. Over the last decade, conservationists’ efforts to control mink in Yorkshire have resulted in water vole numbers beginning to rise again.

The Potteric voles will continue to be monitored so the long term success of the scheme can be measured but the project team believe the voles now stand the best chance of survival due to their newly created habitat. They will boost the resident population of voles and hopefully spread throughout the reserve.