Water Vole Project
ART are the LBAP lead partners for water vole conservation throughout Ayrshire. Water voles are the UK's most endangered mammal with numbers currently at around 3% of 1989 levels.
In 2010 ART commenced a habitat improvement and reintroduction project on the Slaphouse Burn in Ayr and also at Darley Burn, Troon where water voles survived until recently. Both habitats have great potential and both are known to have supported good numbers of water voles in the past. Coincidentally both release sites are located on municipal golf courses. Funding for this project was provided by South Ayrshire Waste Environment Trust, South Ayrshire Council and The Nature Save Trust without which this project would not be possible.
Following restoration of the habitat mainly through improved and informed management, both sites will have captive bred water voles introduced. Derek Gow Consutants, the UK's leading water vole consultancy will undertake captive breeding on ART's behalf using water voles originally rescued from Lanarkshire. Ayrshire genes will hopefully be introduced to the breeding program should suitable animals be located. Young water voles will be reintroduced to the burns once the habitat offers sufficient food and cover thus giving them a good chance of survival.
Importantly, the control of mink along these burns is essential. A single mink can dramatically reduce the viability of a water vole population and therefore this species must be controlled. Apart from water voles, many bird species are targeted by mink including the once common moorhen. ART has already trapped a male mink on the Darley Burn and monitoring indicates that there are unlikely to others at present. ART hope that by controlling mink, biodiversity in general will improve.
ART have developed a working relationship with Forestry Commission staff involved in a similar project at Loch Ard Forest near Aberfoyle where water voles have already been introduced to upland sites. This relationship will undoubtedly benefit our project here in Ayrshire and might well lead to the development of further projects based on Forestry Commission land in the South of the district where ART staff are monitoring the known populations that survive.
Anyone interested in volunteering for the project will be most welcome whatever the amount of time they have available. Volunteers could help with mink monitoring and trapping and field surveys to identify new populations. ART staff can provide basic but essential survey training which could be useful for future careers. Recently a volunteer accompanied ART staff when surveying a site in South Ayrshire and assisted in the discovery of water vole activity on a previously unrecorded burn. Photos taken on the day showing active burrows and latrines are shown below.
The long awaited release day came upon us in rather a rush. At short(ish) notice, Derek Gow announced that our water voles would be ready for stocking in about a week and we finally agreed on the 28th of July. Over the next few days we created over 140 artificial burrows in suitable bankings on both Darley and Slaphouse catchments.
Jay Humphries from JRH Ecology Worcestershire was free to deliver the voles and assist with the release and we are very grateful for his expertise and patience throughout the process. In all, we stocked 144 water voles between the two catchments over two days and also held a photo opportunity for interested press.
The quality of the habitat throughout the Darley Burn catchment is excellent and offers the water voles a great opportunity to become established before winter. Slaphouse Burn is not as high quality a habitat as Darley Burn but there are many suitable areas for the water voles to occupy along the length of burn and it will be very interesting to monitor their movements over the next few months. We picked what we think are the most suitable locations for release but the voles may well decide differently.
All the animals were micro-chipped before we released them and we will monitor their dispersal and the factors that influence this with the assistance of Kisty Griffiths, an undergraduate from Scottish Agricultural College who will write her dissertation based on her Darley Burn research.
We cannot thank enough all the volunteers that assisted over the two days; David form BTCV, Kirsty, and Alex from Glasgow University who is working towards an MSc. Also, we are grateful for the ongoing support of both South Ayrshire Council and South Ayrshire Waste Environment Trust for their financial commitment and support they have given to the project. Last but not least, thanks to the landowners who have been supportive of our efforts and allowed us access to monitor mink and stock water voles.
Moira Heron from URsTV will shortly be posting video clips on her site taken on the second release day. URsTV.com
If you are interested in establishing a community group or finding out more about water voles in Ayrshire contact Stuart Brabbs, ART's project officer for the species. Anyone with information about water voles or where they can be found in Ayrshire, please contact the Trust so that these areas can be protected within future projects. Please use the form below: