Sefton home to rare water voles, wildlife trust finds

Water vole feeding
Image caption The wildlife trust hopes the water voles in Lunt Meadows will receive special protection

Merseyside waterways are home to one of the rarest mammals in the UK, according to a new study.

Water voles are the fastest declining mammal in the UK, but the study by Cheshire Wildlife Trust shows one of the highest populations in Sefton.

In Lunt Meadows, 30 water voles were recorded in a 100-metre area compared to the national average of six.

The trust now hopes to secure national recognition and protection for the water vole population.

'Narrow ditches'

Dr Tim Graham, Lancashire biodiversity manager, said the Water Vole Project had shown that changes in land use and the fact that American mink prey on water voles had affected numbers.

"Sites on the edge of Sefton may represent a refuge from mink and changes to larger water courses," said Dr Graham.

"The narrow ditches across the intensive agricultural areas of Sefton are ideal habitat with emergent vegetation, steep banks for burrows and slow moving water.

"They are not fussy about the water quality and they are great divers and swimmers, but they can easily be affected by floods which destroy burrows and scour out food supplies.

"Their populations can recover so long as their habitat is maintained and they do not become isolated."

Water voles are also often confused with rats and can be accidentally poisoned by pest controllers, and site developers.

'Does not help'

Part of the wildlife trusts' Water Vole Project is to educate people on the difference between a water vole and a brown rat.

"Ratty from The Wind in the Willows does not help matters," Dr Graham continued.

"He is actually a water vole. Water voles are darker than brown common rats, about the same size with a rounder body and shorter, chubbier face with ears which extend just above their fur."

The North West Lowland Water Vole Project is the culmination of four years of work in the North West under the guidance of the Water for Wildlife Programme.

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