Blog, News

Monthly Column Sept 2023 Bury Free Press

Will Ratty return to the water meadows?

Bury Water Meadows Group’s ‘bio-observers’ have been busy recording the diversity of animals and plants in the town centre but one creature they haven’t seen much of is the water vole.  This protected species should thrive in our water meadows, ditches and rivers but seemingly it doesn’t as, is so often the case with all struggling wildlife, the habitat isn’t right for these engaging little rodents anymore.  Remember ‘Ratty’ in the children’s classic Wind in the Willows?  He is a water vole.  

A small rodent in a bush

Description automatically generated

Photo Credit: Ben Andrew and Suffolk Wildlife Trust 

With this in mind, Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) and BWMG are working in partnership to enhance the ditch in No Man’s Meadows known by the Group as Police Station Ditch, creating a permanently wet, backwater feature. The project was identified in a hydrology report commissioned by BWMG and both organisations see that it will provide a valuable refuge for fish, amphibians, invertebrates, and other species which come to find food, water and shelter there, including the water vole.  

Only 40 years ago water voles were an abundant species and a fairly common sight in our waterways.  It’s vital that we protect this small rodent as they could be considered mini ‘ecosystem engineers’ similar to the beaver but of smaller range and effect, as their burrowing and movements all help to create the conditions for other animals and plants to flourish. A bit like the brown rat but with a blunter nose and small ears making them look much cuter and they have a furry tail unlike the rat’s.  They typically leave feeding marks on many riverside plants such as sedge, reed and water mint,  chewed at a 45 degree angle and this is a tell-tail ‘field sign’.  Their latrines will identify their presence too, with dark green cylindrical droppings similar in size and shape to a tic tac! 

A brown rodent eating a leaf

Description automatically generated

Photo Credit: Gavin Durrant and Suffolk Wildlife Trust 

Today the water vole is the UK’s fastest declining mammal and faces extinction without positive action for its conservation.  It is thought that habitat loss and predation by American mink, an invasive non-native species are the main causes of the decline.  SWT carried out surveys in the early 2000s in every river catchment in the county and the results showed a dramatic decline in their populations.  So efforts were stepped up and now, happily, Suffolk remains a stronghold for the species.  This exciting project aims to keep it that way for generations to see. Our chalk streams (the Rivers Lark and the Linnet) are a rare enough feature, but to also have a thriving water vole population would be exceptional for the town!  

Police Station ditch connects to the River Lark between the Crankles and No Man’s Meadow so it’s within an important footpath network round the meadows.  The path alongside the ditch will be closed from Monday 9th October for a week, for the work to take place and we apologise for any inconvenience, but we are doing important work to create habitat for our beleaguered species!    

A stream with trees and grass

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Photo Credit: Jillian Macready BWMG