AROUND 190 water voles were released into a river as part of the most ambitious reintroduction project in the UK.
Once a common sight in the area, the voles were thought to have been extinct in the Meon Valley for at least five years.
But the UK’s fastest declining mammal is now making a comeback.
And the River Meon is quickly becoming a haven for the rodent.
The 190 water voles have been released this week near Soberton and join 450 previously released at Titchfield Haven in 2013 and 600 released further upstream in 2014.
Elaina Whittaker-Slark, a South Downs National Park Ranger, said: ‘This is an ambitious project – the largest in the UK.
‘We’re still in early days but it’s hoped that in the future we’ll have water voles back and thriving, from the source in the heart of the South Downs National Park, its tributaries and along the length of the Meon Valley.
‘There’s a bigger story here too, as water voles are an important part of the jigsaw that makes up a healthy river system.’
The latest release was made possible by the Portsmouth Services Fly Fishing Association, which manage the sites where the water voles are set free.
Matt Owen-Farmer, from the association, said: ‘We’ve been working with the National Park Authority to bring the mink population under control and improve the habitat and we’re very happy to welcome our new residents.’