Over forty protected water voles have been reintroduced into a specially created habitat at Barking Riverside, one of the UK’s largest housing developments.
The species, once common across the UK, has undergone one of the most serious declines of any wild mammal in Britain during the 20th century. Barking Riverside remains an area where water voles can still be seen in the wild. In 2015, ten animals were relocated to a specialist centre in Devon for breeding purposes – the offspring have now been returned to the area.
The new habitat, funded and created by Barking Riverside Limited, was developed in close consultation with Natural England and The Environment Agency; it incorporates ponds with a diversity of aquatic plants, providing optimal foraging habitat for water vole. Mink rafts have also been installed at key locations across the site to monitor the presence of American mink, a non-native predator that poses a significant threat to the conservation of water voles.
On the day of the relocation, a group of Barking Riverside residents were invited to a demonstration by Harry Smith, Consultant Ecologist of DF Clark Bionomique*, to witness how ecologists trap and transport water voles prior to release into the wild.
Clarissa Hargest-Kemp, who attended the demonstration, comments: “I’ve lived here for 14 years and regularly come down to the public land along the river to walk my dog. It’s good to see that wildlife is still part of the picture, and still will be when the building work is complete.”
Harry Smith, Consultant Ecologist, advises on how residents can best assist in the protection of the species: “Predators are the biggest threat water voles face. In the unlikely event residents spot any unusual animals, such as American mink, I would encourage them to report their sightings to Barking Riverside Limited, so the team of ecologists here can track any potential dangers.”
The water vole release is part of an extensive conservation programme at Barking Riverside. Subsequent phases include the translocation of reptiles from one section of the site to another.
Richard Southall, Assistant Director Barking Riverside for L&Q, which has entered into a partnership to speed up the delivery of the development, concludes, “The programme of environmental works at Barking Riverside is designed to enhance the site, ensuring the long term protection of the plethora of interesting species here. The riverside land close to the site office can still be safely accessed by Barking residents, and we want to encourage the public to make use of this wonderful open space, and learn about the unique environment right on their doorstep.”