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Water voles, said to be the UK’s fastest declining mammal, are to get a £25,000 boost from People’s Postcode Lottery (PPL) to finance a fundraising appeal launched by the Canal & River Trust (CRT) earlier this year.
Water vole: Picture by Canal & River Trust
The CRT, which manages 2,000 miles of waterways in England & Wales, launched a public appeal to raise money to help one of the waterways best known mammals along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in July.
Now, following PPL’s support, a small team of volunteers from the CRT and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust will be going out on the towpath to survey a 13km stretch of the Rufford Branch of the canal between Tarleton and Burscough to identify where support is needed.
Once common and widespread, water vole populations have declined in recent years largely as a result of habitat loss and predation by mink. They are now a protected species and although still found in and around the waterways, most vole colonies have become small and isolated with their UK population falling by 95% since the 1970s.
Stephen Leigh, Canal & River Trust ecologist, said: “We surveyed this area in 2008 for water voles and found that they were living along the canal but their colonies were isolated by the varied landscape of the canal banks. We need to update this survey so we can then plan where we need to soften the engineered canal banks and plant them with vegetation to connect up any existing water vole areas to enable them to thrive along the water corridor.
“Water vole populations have rapidly declined in recent years, largely as a result of habitat loss and predation by mink. This support from the People’s Postcode Lottery makes a massive difference as we can extend the water voles territory, enhance the area where they live and play our part in conserving and restoring their populations.”
Following the survey work, more volunteers will be needed to help carry out the habitat enhancements which are vital to provide food and shelter for these furry creatures and to provide a green corridor to enable them to disperse.