FARMERS in Cumbria will play a vital part in helping to bring back a native species to Cumbrian rivers in the future.

Water voles were once widespread in Cumbria, but are now almost absent from the county except for isolated populations in the eastern part of the Eden catchment. The holes that would have once been their burrows are still visible on some riverbanks, but a water vole is rarely seen in them now.

To secure the future of this native species, river conservation charity, Eden Rivers Trust (ERT) has just launched a £80k partnership project funded by the Environment Agency and the Hadfield Trust that will hopefully see this much-loved small mammal return to Cumbrian rivers in the future.

ERT is joining forces with the RSPB, Lowther Estates, United Utilities, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Penrith Anglers and local farmers through the trust’s Lowther and Leith Facilitation Fund farmer group to put in place long-term, ongoing control of American mink (the invasive species that preys on water voles) and create the ideal habitat into which captive-bred water voles can be released, hopefully from 2023 onwards.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We’re extremely grateful to local farmers in Cumbria for allowing Eden Rivers Trust, RSPB and Lowther Estates to introduce water voles in the Eden catchment.

“The re-introduction of water voles in this part of Cumbria will not only bring back a once endangered species, but also help to regenerate other wildlife species in the area. We look forward to the benefits this will bring to people and biodiversity. “

Michael Rogers, Head of Conservation at Eden Rivers Trust said: “This project is important as it brings together landowners, volunteers, world-leading experts and conservationists, all with a single aim – to create the ideal habitat conditions, long-term monitoring and control and breeding programme needed to re-introduce this native species. If successful, this will be a national example of how the species can be brought back from the brink of localised extinction.”

ERT is one of several organisations that have contributed to the continuation of the Restoring Ratty Project’s northern water vole breeding programme, run by Northumberland Wildlife Trust, that has taken voles from northern populations in southern Scotland and northern England to breed for potential release.