Restoring Ratty’ water vole project wins prestigious conservation award

The ‘Restoring Ratty’ conservation project to restore water voles to Kielder Water and Forest Park has won a prestigious award at the Chartered Institute of Ecology an Environmental Management (CIEEM)’s 2019 Awards. The project, which has reintroduced 1,205 water voles to the banks of Kielder’s watercourses, won the award for best practice in large-scale nature conservation.

Water voles are considered ‘ecosystem engineers’ which means they alter habitats and availability of resources for other wildlife. They create burrows in the rivers banks which changes the soil, drying it out and changing the nutrients available. This promotes plant growth and changes plant communities to be more diverse, creating different habitats for more wildlife. They also ‘garden’ by grazing the plants and allowing other plant species to grow.

To improve the success of water vole reintroduction, Forestry England changed the management of the forest to restore the banks along the watercourses, encouraging more varied plant-life to create the perfect habitat. The presence of mink, which hugely contributed to the water voles’ disappearance, has been monitored by the project partners and volunteers to ensure protection of the new vole population. 

Kevin May, Forestry England’s Forest Management Director for North Forest District, said:
“To win this prestigious award is testament to this strong partnership across our organisations, which includes the energy and enthusiasm of a number of keen volunteers. Positive habitat management and the reduction and ongoing monitoring of mink populations will ensure the resilience of this reintroduction.  Telling the story of Restoring Ratty supports not only the interest in water voles, but supports a general awareness of ecology and our environment.  Winning an award or not, seeing the smiles on local children’s faces involved in the actual release of water voles is prize enough!”

Kelly Hollings, Restoring Ratty Project Officer, said 
“Since June 2017, I’ve been involved in the release of 1205 water voles, not to mention the captive breeding of water voles from the Pennines, and over the border in Scotland from 2016 onwards.  This in itself is so rewarding, but to then have won the CIEEM Award is great news and puts a spring in our step… ready for the next batch of releases this summer.”

Liz Walters, Project Manager at Tyne Rivers Trust, said,
“It’s fantastic to have been part of such a landmark project for Northumberland and win this award. To make sure the water voles had the right environment to breed in we monitored for mink in the forest, as well as working with landowners outside of the forest. It’s important that conservation projects like this gain national recognition as it shows what can be achieved when organisations work together.”

If you’d like to help the project, there are volunteering opportunities including checking mink rafts and helping at events – contact restoringratty@northwt.org.uk. If you spot water voles or mink, report your sightings. 
To find out more about the project visit: nwt.org.uk/what-we-do/projects/restoring-ratty

Notes to Editor

1. ‘Restoring Ratty’ is a five-year partnership project between Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry England, the Tyne Rivers Trust and Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust.  It is aimed at the reintroduction of water voles to the Kielder Water and Forest Park area of Northumberland and has all been made possible by National Lottery players through a grant of £421,000 from The National Heritage Lottery Fund (NHLF).
Water voles were once a common sight on our local waterways but sadly numbers have declined dramatically in recent years. However, thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the project partners Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry England and Tyne Rivers Trust, there is a project to restore water vole populations into the Kielder catchment of the north Tyne, with a view to their eventual spread throughout the catchment and surrounding areas.

2. Forestry England manages and cares for the nation’s 1,500 woods and forests, with over 230 million visits per year. As England’s largest land manager, we shape landscapes and are enhancing forests for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and businesses to grow. For more information visit forestryengland.uk. Forestry England is an agency of the Forestry Commission. 

3. Northumberland Wildlife Trust is the largest environmental charity in the 
region working to safeguard native wildlife. One of 47 Wildlife Trusts across the UK, Northumberland Wildlife Trust has campaigned for nature conservation for over 40 years. It aims to inform, educate and involve people of all ages and backgrounds in protecting their environment in favour of wildlife and conservation. 

Supported by over 13,000 individual and 100 corporate members in the region, Northumberland Wildlife Trust manages and protects critical species and habitats at over 60 nature reserves throughout Newcastle,
North Tyneside and Northumberland. 

4. Tyne Rivers Trust is the only independent environmental charity dedicated to improving the Tyne Catchment. We work with people and communities to protect and enhance the River Tyne and its tributaries, so they are healthy, biodiverse and asset for present and future generations. We can only achieve this by working with others, and as a charity we are reliant on financial support. We need people to support us and get involved.

5. Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust
Kielder Water & Forest Park spans 250 square miles, is home to the largest forest in England and the largest man-made lake in northern Europe. It was awarded the number one tourism experience in England by Visit England 2013, and the most tranquil place in England by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Together with Northumberland National Park, it was granted gold tier Dark Sky Park status in December 2013. For more information see www.visitkielder.com.
Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust is a registered charity working to develop the Park as an inspirational place. It aims to improve economic, social and environmental sustainability, provide public recreation and leisure facilities, and facilitate education in all aspects of the natural environment and advance art and architecture in the Park. The Trust works with the range of communities to benefit from these activities.
Members, who have appointed directors/trustees to serve on the board, are Northumbrian Water, Forestry England, Calvert Kielder, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland Wildlife trust, Northumberland National Park Authority and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society. Affiliate organisations that are not members but have a close working relationship with KWFPDT include Arts Council England, Environment Agency, The Scout Association and local decision making bodies such as the parish council.

6. The National Lottery Heritage Fund
Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk. 
 

Media Contact:
Hannah Field
Forestry England

t: 01768778469
e: hannah.field@forestryengland.uk