An important step will be taken in West Wales this week in the battle to save Britain’s fastest disappearing mammal.
The UK’s population of water voles has reduced by up to 95 per cent since the 1960s but officers from Natural Resources Wales will this week release around 100 young voles at a nature reserve only a stone’s throw from the National Eisteddfod in Llanelli.
The site at Ffrwd Farm near Pembrey, which is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), was selected because it provides excellent habitat for water voles including ditches, ponds, reedbeds and fen.
Hilary Foster, Biodiversity Officer at Natural Resources Wales, said: “Water voles were once common in rivers, canals and ponds across Wales.
“But habitat loss and predation by American mink means that they have suffered a huge decline in the last few decades and are now highly endangered.
“Setting up this new population in an ideal site is an important step to give them a better chance of survival in West Wales.
“From here the voles will be able to disperse into the surrounding landscape to re-colonise the ditch systems where they were once common.
“In the longer term, we hope that they will link up with existing populations in Llanelli and Laugharne.”
The voles being released at Ffrwd Farm are the offspring of a small number of water voles captured from a site in Llanelli last autumn. These were kept in captivity over the winter and paired up to breed in the spring.
In the run-up to the release, Natural Resources Wales has also worked with conservation groups and local landowners to improve the surrounding habitats for water voles.
This has involved clearing and fencing ditches to make them suitable for water voles as well as monitoring and trapping mink in the areas around Ffrwd Farm reserve.
As well as boosting the vole population, the work to the ditches also has wider benefits. For other species such as otters and bats, improving ditch habitat creates a network of corridors which they use to travel around.
The work will also improve local water quality by the creation of buffer zones between the river banks and the fence lines. Denser vegetation alongside the waterways helps to improve water quality by slowing and filtering the water run-off and pollutants entering the rivers from surrounding land.
Ffrwd Farm nature reserve is owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales in partnership with Llanelli Naturalists.
Dr Lizzie Wilberforce of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales said:
“We are really excited to be involved in this project and to know it will see the return of the water voles to this area, after so many years of their absence. We have worked in partnership with Natural Resources Wales on this site for many years to improve the quality of the habitat, and this project really builds on all that hard work. Ffrwd Farm is a beautiful nature reserve, and water voles were once common in this area. It’s wonderful to think we could see that again.”
This project is a partnership between local landowners, Natural Resources Wales, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and Carmarthenshire County Council.