By Steve Willis
Steve Willis joined the Trossachs Water Vole Project when he took over from Ryan Greenwood in August last year. The ongoing monitoring of the expanding water vole population continued with staff and volunteers carrying out surveys throughout the summer. Mink are still being detected from time-to-time but it is great that we are seeing fewer and fewer signs of mink within our area and then they do turn up a massive effort is made to catch them. Two mink were caught in the vicinity of Aberfoyle last year, with partner landowners at the RSPB Loch Lomond and the fishery managers at Lake of Menteith adding to a modest annual catch of nine mink in 2017. There is always more we can be doing, and in 2018 Steve will be working with landowners across the area to try and engage with them and get them involved with monitoring and trapping mink. There is occasional by-catch in the live capture traps we use for mink. A nice discovery in a trap set in a wetland in Loch Ard Forest in October was this big fat water vole. He was released unharmed and he casually sauntered out the trap, sat on the edge of the raft, and then ‘plopped’ into the water and disappeared.
In 2018 the project hopes to further increase volunteer input. Come summer the annual water vole survey takes place and volunteers are invaluable in helping us cover a massive area. Prior to that Steve is keen to get more volunteers helping with monitoring mink rafts around Forestry Commission land in and around the Trossachs. This is a nice straightforward task- rafts are checked every couple of weeks for tracks left by any visiting animals. We frequently find tracks of otter, water vole, pine marten, field voles and mice, and of course the odd mink. We will provide all the necessary kit and relevant training. If there are any budding trackers out there then get in touch with Steve- we could really use your help.
In November we gathered in Edinburgh in our smartest gear as we had been nominated in the ‘Species Champion’ category of the RSPB’s Nature of Scotland Awards. There was a fancy do at the Sheraton and we managed to get all the Project Officers from over the years to join us. What’s the collective noun for a group of Water Vole Project Officers? Anyway, we were up against stiff competition so we were delighted when the announcement was made that we were ‘Highly Commended’! A superb result, and really nice to get national recognition for what has been a very successful project. Following the result the champagne flowed (thanks Dave!) and a great night was had by all.
It’s not all glitz and glamour though, so it was quickly back to normal. If anyone needs me I’ll be wading around a wetland somewhere in the woods.