Ratty is back in the county
RATTY – one of the most famous and most celebrated characters in English literature – may soon be seen along riverbanks across the whole of Suffolk.The water vole so loved in the Wind in the Willows was disappearing fast from our countryside – because of killer mink hunting them down with a vengeance.
RATTY - one of the most famous and most celebrated characters in English literature - may soon be seen along riverbanks across the whole of Suffolk.
The water vole so loved in the Wind in the Willows was disappearing fast from our countryside - because of killer mink hunting them down with a vengeance.
But thanks to a project on the River Deben, the creatures, which had been on the verge of extinction in many parts of East Anglia and could have been extinct nationwide by 2012, are now making a recovery.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust is so thrilled with its project to save the species that it is set to extend it and work with landowners on other rivers.
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A recent trust survey showed a 40 per cent increase in water vole occupancy on the Deben compared to last year - now 80pc of sites shown to have water vole present in 1998 are occupied.
Penny Hemphill, water and wildlife officer said: "Last year things looked very different. It was depressing as our 2003 survey found a 55pc decline in site occupancy on the main channel of the river Deben since the 1998 national survey."
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The main reason for the decline was the water vole's deadly enemy, the mink, which has bred very successfully after escaping from fur farms in the 1950s and 1960s, and has brought a regime of terror for voles.
The resurgence in water vole numbers follows the installation of mink traps and wouldn't have happened without the co-operation, time and commitment invested by riverside landowners.
Landowners and gamekeepers are also now noting a general increase in the presence of other wildlife although Ms Hemphill said that the Trust would like to encourage the continued use of mink traps.
Water voles' blunt faces and small ears readily distinguish them from rats which may also inhabit waterside areas.
They need luxurious bankside vegetation, particularly grasses and sedges, to provide food and cover from predators. They also favour steep banks to allow them to construct extensive burrows.
FACTFILE: water voles
n The water vole is a rodent almost entirely associated with wetlands and is found living in the banks of ditches and rivers.
n It is our largest vole and an expert swimmer, using the water to escape predators.
n It feeds on all kinds of waterside plants leaving characteristic bitten-off lengths of stem and oval droppings.
n Although once found throughout the UK, the water vole has declined dramatically in the last 10 years from an estimated 2.3 million in 1990 to 354,000 in 1998.
n Known as a "water rat", it has a blunt muzzle, small hairy ears and a rounded body, and a relatively long but hairy tail.
n Adult voles are between 14cm and 22 cm in body length and weigh around 300g.