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Water Voles on the Meon

  • Author: Russell Cleaver
  • Published: 15th August 2017
  • Categories: Blog, Business, Clanfield

Water Voles on the Meon

Last week, as a volunteer in the South Downs National Park, I helped with the release of water voles back into the River Meon. In recent years, water vole numbers have crashed, largely due to the earlier uncontrolled release of mink into our rivers, which are ferocious predators. However, following a programme to catch and dispatch these American interlopers, the Meon has been mink free for some 6 years.

Consequently, the biggest ever water vole breeding and release programme was created in the UK to return water voles to Hampshire. The voles come from the west country, where there are bred on a farm, and last week 250 were available for release. Over the last 4 years we’ve been releasing voles in batches, starting at the mouth of the River Meon in Titchfield Haven. By now we have reached the upper end of the river near East Meon.

Most of the voles are kept in family groups in small pens. Each pen is then placed close to the river bank to acclimatise them so that they leave in their own time.  But we release some single male voles too, as they are most likely to explore the riverbank to set up new territories.  They are very shy and don’t like being handled, so hide under straw as we approach the river, but make a bolt for freedom as soon as they sense we have arrived at the water’s edge.

It’s very difficult to see water voles in the wild; they hide from view since most large animals and birds regard them as lunch. The most obvious sign of their presence is a distinctive ‘plop’ as they dive out of sight. Hopefully you’ll be hearing this more often now when you walk beside the River Meon.

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