Rianna is one of our dedicated water vole volunteers and has worked as part of this thrilling community project for the last couple of years.
We caught up with Rianna to talk about her experiences and what she thinks we can do to bring this charismatic species back to the Hogsmill River.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Rianna and I was the previous intern for the #GetInVoled project! I studied zoology as my undergraduate degree and then went onto doing a masters in Conservation Biology. I am now seeking a career in freshwater conservation.
How and why did you become involved in this exciting Water Vole rewilding project?
I actually met Elliot on the Hogsmill at Elmbridge Meadows (where we had the practice water vole survey on the training day) during London River’s Week 2019! It was there that he told me that he would be embarking on a project to try and see the potential of bringing water voles back onto the Hogsmill river and told me he was looking for an intern for that and encouraged me to apply! The rest is history.
I wanted to become involved first and foremost as water is essential for life so I believe all effort should be put into looking after our freshwater ecosystems. The water vole was a well-loved species that was sadly lost from our rivers as I came to realise when I did a water vole survey for a university assignment where there were little to no water vole sightings. Helping to bring them back would encourage the public to get outdoors into nature, and encourage them to look after our natural world.
Could you tell us a little more about your role and experiences with the project?
So Elliot and I started by organising and advertising the volunteer training day. This was an exciting chance for us to inform our volunteers about the well-loved water voles and teach them how to carry out the surveys along the Hogsmill River. I started by advertising the event on Eventbrite and sought out volunteers by posting on various local conservation Facebook groups, emailing a list of previous Citizen Zoo volunteers and creating a poster. I then designed a volunteer-friendly water vole habitat survey form based on the one used in the previous water vole reintroduction project on the South Downs.
After the survey training days had taken place, I assigned volunteers to groups to survey the different sections of the Hogsmill, according to the sections they had chosen on the training day. I emailed them this information and continued email correspondence with them to encourage and offer support where they had difficulties carrying out the surveys. The volunteers submitted back the survey forms to me, and I entered the results onto QGIS, which we used to create the beautiful coloured map of the Hogsmill, indicating the potential areas suited to water vole release. We then presented the project results at London Recorder’s Day at the Natural History Museum which many of our volunteers came to support which was a wonderful encouragement!
To keep the hard work of the project going, we set up the water vole reading group, which quickly divided up into the water vole working groups which thanks to the hard work of our amazing volunteers, has allowed us to keep the hard work of the project going! And to finish off, we rewarded the volunteers for all their hard work with a water vole Christmas quiz. So it has been an exhilarating experience which has definitely given me the skills which I can take forward and use in the conservation sector.
Why do you think the community should be involved in such a vital project?
I think we need all the help we can to allow water voles to survive and thrive if they are reintroduced into the Hogsmill. This means that the community need to be aware of how to look after our rivers, and this needs to be a team effort from the whole community in order to be successful as one neglectful act from any member of the community who lacks awareness could be detrimental to our water voles and it would be heartbreaking to lose them again after all the hard work and effort put in by our amazing volunteers to welcome them back.
What does the return of the water vole along the Hogsmill river mean to you?
The return of the water vole would mean a great deal to me as it would mark the community coming together to look after our locals’ beloved Hogsmill which provides an essential resource to our lives.
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