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Water voles prosper at Doncaster nature reserve

Wednesday 16th September 2015

Water voleWater vole - Credit Tom Marshall

Potteric Carr survey comes up trumps for endangered species

Staff and volunteers at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust were delighted to recently find evidence of a healthy water vole population at Trust nature reserve, Potteric Carr, near Doncaster.

This news was particularly welcome as in the last few decades water voles have suffered a 90% decrease in their UK population and are now considered a priority species for conservation. Although they once thrived at the Wildlife Trust’s flagship site in Doncaster, Potteric Carr had also seen a drop in numbers in the last few years. This huge decline encountered on the nature reserve was thought to be linked to the presence of American mink who predate on water voles, their introduction to the UK thought to be a big driver in this native small mammals decline across the country. A lack of suitable habitat has also been a driver, which has led to a huge effort by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers to create safer, more suitable habitats around Potteric Carr.

Water vole raft - Credit Jim Horsfall

With limited survey data to show whether or not this work had been effective, the chance to use water vole rafts in the summer provided an excellent opportunity to gather some of this data. The rafts were floated in the various drains around Potteric Carr: rafts are often used by surveyors as they are both safe and effective, working by providing a spot for the water voles to use as a marker of their territory, by effectively using it as a toilet! Without the rafts water voles would leave these markers or ‘latrines’ in less obvious places such as in clumps of grass or shelves in ditches, which can be hard to find. In addition the rafts prevent surveyors from having to access hard to reach and often unstable riverside ditches.

This news was particularly welcome as in the last few decades water voles have suffered a 90% decrease in their UK population.

Jim Horsfall, Reserves Officer at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust said:

“Whilst some people had reported seeing water voles on the site, we had no concrete evidence that their numbers were up. We were able to deploy Yorkshire Wildlife Trust staff and trainees around the site to place the water vole rafts so that we might collect this evidence, should it exist… And happily it did! Every single water vole raft showed positive signs of water vole activity, which has allowed us to work out the extent of their territories at Potteric Carr.

“Water voles have really suffered in recent years, so it is exciting to see that we’ve been able encourage them back here and hope that the population continues to grow, so that it might also help boost the population in surrounding locations, such as along the River Torne.”

To find out more about Potteric Carr Nature Reserve or how you might volunteer on projects that improve habitat for endangered species like water vole see our volunteering pages or call 01904 659570.

Tagged with: Doncaster, Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, Water vole