Return of the water vole is a sign of river’s health

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Ratty’s had a rough few years of it, but at last there’s some good news for him – and for lovers of wildlife.

As we report on page 3 today, hundreds of water voles have been released into the Titchfield Haven wildlife reserve, and many more will be introduced in the coming weeks.

Much-loved as one of the main characters in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, the water vole – which despite his name in the book is emphatically not a rat – has been on the decline for decades.

Firstly their habitat has been lost, secondly rising pollution levels have spelled trouble, and thirdly the American mink, which have either escaped or been released from fur farms, find them particularly tasty.

It all adds up to grim reading – all figures are only estimated, of course, but before 1960 there were thought to be about 8m water voles in the UK, and now, even after several years of conservation around the country, the figure is not likely to be much more than 250,000.

You may claim that it does not matter, and that evolution will dictate that species will either thrive or die out.

You may also argue that it shows the folly of introducing, whether accidentally or on purpose, animals from overseas – in this case the mink, but see also the grey squirrel which has hounded out red squirrels from most of the UK – and that this reintroduction will only end in defeat from predators.

However, we welcome the move. Not only is it right to try to conserve and promote the water voles – and it’s good to see that this is one of the largest projects in the country – but it also acts as a sign that the water quality in the River Meon and in Titchfield Haven is of a sufficiently high quality that the water voles can have the chance to thrive.

This isn’t just good for the voles – clean water means all forms of wildlife can flourish.

Let’s be proud of our county’s picturesque river and the chance it gives to restore one of the most distinctive – if secretive – of countryside animals.