This summer sees the tenth anniversary of one of Scotland’s most successful conservation projects – The Trossachs Water Vole Project.
Having gone extinct in the Trossachs sometime in the 1990s through loss of habitat, watercourse pollution and the spread of the non-native American mink, water voles have seen a resurgence across the area thanks to the conservation project – the first of its kind in Scotland.
Kick started after a chance conversation between a Forestry Enterprise Scotland (FES) employee and a wildlife vet, the reintroduction programme coincided with an FES drive to improve existing wetlands and waterways in Loch Ard Forest.
Project officer, Stephen Willis, said;
“FES’s work at that time had created the sort of habitat that was ideal for water voles but there were none around.
“However, an industrial development on the edge of Glasgow threatened to destroy a known water vole colony, so it was decided that those animals would be caught and translocated to the Trossachs.”
The translocation, which included a period of captive breeding in Devon carried out by the Derek Gow Consultancy and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, resulted in three releases of animals (2008, 2009 and 2010) that saw over 1,000 water voles reintroduced at sites across the area.
Mink control in advance of the reintroduction helped the water voles establish themselves and now they are thriving at all the release sites and well beyond. As the water vole population has expanded so too has the effort to control mink.
“Today water voles can be found from upland settings high above Loch Lomond to the lowlands of the River Forth, almost within sight of Stirling Castle.
“We know the current range thanks to the efforts of a team of trained and experienced volunteers from Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, which carries out surveys from May to September.
“Our project, which is ongoing, has been so successful that water voles from the Trossachs have even been trapped and translocated to Northumberland to help boost the numbers being reintroduced in Kielder as part of the ‘Restoring Ratty’ project.
“That is a resounding accolade for our project.”
Alison Baker, Director of the Forth Rivers Trust said;
“It’s been a pleasure working with the other partners to conserve this ever-expanding population of water voles in the Trossachs.
“It is known that water voles existed on a number of rivers throughout the Forth District but due to a decline of habitat and the impact of American mink this has meant the population has declined. It is important to continue to protect and restore habitat for water voles and keep up the fight against the invasive non-native predator, American mink as it could result in the population declining again and potentially being wiped out.”
Linda Winskill, Wild Park Officer at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authoritysaid;
“This has been a hugely successful conservation project and is a great example of partnership working. It is fantastic to see water voles in areas of the National Park where they have not been recorded for many years. People may now be lucky enough to see these elusive mammals, or hear the distinctive ‘plop’ as they jump into the water!
“National Park volunteers have been essential in monitoring the water voles’ distribution, and have contributed hundreds of hours carrying out surveys across the lifetime of the project.”
David McCulloch, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park volunteer, added;
“I started volunteering for the project five years ago and it’s great to know our survey results help to map the spread of water voles in the National Park.”
The Trossachs Water Vole Project is a partnership of Forestry Commission Scotland, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and Forth Rivers Trust.