Returning Water Voles to the Hogsmill

Citizen Practise

water voles reintroduction
Water voles - Get InVOLEd project


Water Voles (Arvicola amphibius) are one of the UK’s most endearing and charismatic mammals, immortalised in British culture in famous tales such as The Wind and Willows (yes Ratty was indeed a water vole). Water voles hold a special place in British hearts, however, are sadly the UK’s fastest declining mammal and without proactive conservation measures, they’ll likely be lost forever.

This project has returned water voles to the Hogsmill River in Kingston Upon Thames, a place which has a special affinity with the species. Local residents speak of a time only 30 years ago when these furry critters were teaming in our rivers. The famous Millais painting ‘Ophelia’ depicting the Hogsmill river was originally set to feature a water vole until art critics thought it would be mistaken for a rat.

The last official record of water voles in Kingston was in 2017 and until August 2022, they were locally extinct on the river. Water voles play an important ecological role and bring immense joy to people who encounter these fantastic animals perched on the banks of our rivers for the first time.

Bringing back water voles to the Hogsmill


Where: Hogsmill River, Kingston

Species: Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius)

IUCN Red List Status: Endangered – Britain’s fastest declining mammal

Threats: Habitat loss and fragmentation, predation by non-native American mink


Since launching the project in 2018, we have achieved a great deal! We have engaged with over 6,000 people telling them about these amazing mammals and the project! We have amassed an incredible group of over 350 local volunteers, and through regular meetings, events and volunteer sessions, actions, we have achieved our goal of releasing 101 water voles back onto the river.

Some major milestones for the project include carrying out habitat surveys, community engagement events, habitat restoration activities, including planting over 1500 river plants, and monitoring the river for signs of invasive species that impact water vole populations.

While the reintroduction is now complete, there is still much to do, including monitoring the population through latrine raft (faecal) surveys, as well as camera traps and bioacoustic sensors, in addition to continued restoration work. Anyone can get involved to support the project! You can get InVoled here by signing up to our volunteer newsletter.

How it all began

The project launched with the training of 60 volunteers who surveyed the habitat along the Hogsmill to identify viable habitat for water voles. The survey results were later presented to a packed audience at the 2019 London Recorders Day at the Natural History Museum. Following from this event, we purchased, built and deployed 10 aquatic mammal detection rafts throughout the catchment. These help us to identify what mammals are currently using the river, including non-native species such as American mink that predate on water voles.

Green – Potential good habitat
– Sub-optimal habitat
– Unsuitable habitat
– Inaccessible

Our volunteer session building 10 aquatic mammal rafts.

Community Engagement & Internships

We hold regular strategy meetings and wrote a detailed re-introduction plan, and our team of volunteers work on a range of activities and are critical to putting the plan into action. The Working Groups for the project include – Habitat restoration, Community engagement, Invasive Species Monitoring, Dog Walker Engagement and Fundraising. We have also had some fantastic paid interns who have supported the administration and engagement of the project, and since 2021 the project has been led by our Urban Rewilding Officer.

August 2022 release

Years of hard work paid off in August 2022, when 101 water voles were released back onto the river for the first time since 2017. This was a landmark moment for the project and paves the way for the next exciting part of the project, the post release monitoring of the population!

Water voles return to the Hogsmill

Partnerships & Collaborations

The project is a collaboration with Thames Water, Greenspace Information of Greater London (GiGL), Kingston University and The Hogsmill Partnership. The project will also benefit from the expertise of the UK’s leading water vole expert Derek Gow!

We’d like to send a big thank you to the Chessington Conservation Fund for the seed funding invested to get this project off of the ground, and thankful for the endorsement from the Royal Borough of Kingston Council and the Environment Agency.

How to #GetInVOLEd

Help us raise funds for this incredible project and check out our donation page to support this work!

Thank you all for your ongoing support!