Hundreds of rescued water voles moving home to north Essex

HUNDREDS of endangered water voles are to be re-homed in north Essex after being rescued from the site of a new deep sea container port.

About 300 of the mammals from the “London Gateway” port site at Thurrock are to be moved nearly 50 miles to a strecth of the River Colne, near Colchester, as part of a massive relocation project.

Trapping water voles began in March under licence from Natural England before they were taken to temporary homes.

The water voles will be released at several sites including the Woodland Trust’s 500-acre Fordham Hall Estate.

Some of the voles will be radio-tracked to see where they settle providing vital information for future wildlife relocation projects.

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Across the country water voles have declined by more than 90% in recent years, as a result of destruction of their natural riverbank habitat and predation by invasive American mink which originally escaped from fur farms.

The nationwide fall in numbers has been mirrored in Essex and the mammal has vanished from the River Colne in the past few years.

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Darren Tansley, overseeing the scheme for the Essex Wildlife Trust, hopes the relocation will restore the vole to its former glory.

He said: “The river has been surveyed for at least two decades and we have watched water voles decline and be-come extinct along the river, mainly because of mink on the river.

“Part of the process has been a series of mink controls. We’ve got the mink down to virtually zero - we have virtually wiped them out from the catchment - and it is now safe for the voles to come back to the river.”

The release will see the pens containing the water voles, bedding and food embedded into the river bank so they can burrow out themselves and still have a ready-made nest site to take shelter in.

Mr Tansley added that the rationale for moving a coastal population of water voles inland was that the mammals were threatened along the coast by sea level rises and development.

Shifting them to a similar coastal location elsewhere would only delay the problems they faced by a few years.

He said the habitat along the Colne was mostly very good and it was a “perfect water vole river” now the mink have gone.

The first water voles were due to be relocated to the Colne today but recent heavy rain has delayed the move until later his month.

More than 50,000 animals, including rare species such as great crested newts, have been moved from the �1.5billion port site.

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