Ratty finds a new friend in Cairngorms

Ratty finds a new friend in Cairngorms

The water vole, popularised as ‘Ratty’ in Wind in the Willows, is to have a new helping hand in the Cairngorms National Park.

A water vole conservation officer has been appointed to help protect and monitor water vole populations within the park, as part of a new partnership project funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the University of Aberdeen and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

The water vole, a once common resident along our streams and river banks, was recently identified by SNH as one of 23 animals and plants which need priority action as part of the Species Framework consultation. It has suffered dramatic declines throughout Britain and has disappeared altogether from many lowland areas. Some populations of water vole in Scotland have fallen by up to 80 per cent in recent decades, but the Cairngorms is one of its last strongholds.

One of the main causes of the water vole’s decline is the non-native American mink, which is a voracious predator of small mammals, fish and birds. The new project officer will work with local landowners to help eradicate mink from the park and surrounding areas, and will monitor the effect on water vole populations.

Laura Taylor, Project Officer said: “Water voles are critically endangered in Britain and really need our help, so it’s great to be involved in a project which is specifically geared to protecting this endearing small mammal.

“The American mink is the biggest concern for the water vole, so much of our efforts will be focused on controlling them to give the water vole a chance to recover. At the same time it will be important to check how the water vole population is faring, and to identify any smaller populations in the park and keep an eye on them.

“Part of my job will also be to let local people and visitors to the park know what we are doing in the water vole project, so I’ll be busy creating information boards and a leaflet to get the message out about just how vital it is to save our water voles.”

Rob Raynor, species advisor at SNH said: “The Water vole is one of a number of animals and plants which need extra help to recover, so it is very exciting to have a dedicated officer in post to ensure this species gets the best support possible.

“Laura Taylor is just the right person for the job and brings experience both in advising land managers about water vole conservation and detecting and trapping mink using specially-made mink rafts. Many people are particularly fond of the water vole so I think she will get a lot of local support to help bring this animal back as a regular resident along our streams and rivers.”

Monitoring of both water vole and mink will be carried out using a special raft equipped with a tracking device, which is activated when an animal steps onto the raft. The project will run for three years and the project officer will be based at the Cairngorms National Park Authority in Grantown on Spey.

Conserving and Enhancing the Park’s Biodiversity and Landscapes’ is a key priority in the developing National Park Plan for the Cairngorms, which is out for consultation at the moment.

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