Bringing Water Voles back to Cookham
The following is a public statement issued about this project. We are currently limiting the publicity about the project and will be saying more, and adding to the information here, when we are confident that the re-introduction has been successful. You can see photos taken when we released the first group of water voles in 2021.
Initial steps have been taken to re-introduce water voles in the Cookham area. The species has a special local connection. The village was the home of Kenneth Grahame, author of the classic ’Wind in the Willows’ in which Ratty, in fact a water vole, plays a prominent role.
Other water vole reintroduction projects have taken place in the Thames Valley and beyond. Local wildlife group WildCookham is now hoping to repeat these successes.
Water voles were common along the Thames until the 1990s when a mixture of habitat loss and predations by American Mink, a mammal introduced some decades earlier to the UK, resulted in their disappearance. Their decline was rapid and the number of sites where voles were recorded declined by 94% during the 1990s.
The location of the initial release is not being disclosed to give the project the best chance of success. If the initial stage goes well the plan is to have a further release next year. Funding for the project has come from several sources including South East Water, Thames Water, the Baylis Trust, the Shanly Foundation * and the Naturesave Trust *.
An Endangered Species
Water voles are on the list of Endangered Species, protected by law. They live in burrows in river banks and feed on the reeds and sedges found there. Concerted national efforts to eradicate mink over the past two decades offer the chance for them to survive when re-introduced. WildCookham volunteers have been monitoring rafts placed in waterways around Cookham to check on the presence of mink: this has indicated that, whilst there are still some in the area, their numbers have been very significantly reduced. WildCookham has worked with the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency in preparing for the release which will be undertaken by a team from leading animal re-introduction expert Derek Gow.
Keep your eyes and ears open
Water voles are most often heard due to the ‘plop’ as they drop from a river bank into the water. They can be mistaken for the more common brown rat which can also swim but which has a different shaped head and a longer bare tail. Local residents are being asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org if they spot or hear any water voles in the coming months.
* Shanly Foundation: If you are on social media, we’d like to stay in touch so if you follow us on Twitter @ShanlyFnd, Facebook @ShanlyFoundation or Instagram @shanly.foundation then we will follow you back.