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 wild mammal and without proactive conservation measures they’ll likely be lost forever.
This project is working to bring water voles back to the Hogsmill River in Kingston Upon Thames, a place which has a special affinity with water voles. 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 2014 and they are now extinct throughout the Hogsmill catchment. 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.
Progress To Date?
This project has already achieved so much! We have engaged with over 4,000 people telling them about these amazing mammals and the project! We have amassed an incredible group of local volunteers, and through regular meetings and actions we are making good progress with the project. We’ve carried out habitat surveys, run community engagement events and supporting habitat restoration projects throughout the catchment. However, there is still much that can be done and anyone can get involved to support the project! Please do let us know if you would like to get InVoled here.
Habitat Assessment & Mammal Rafts
We’ve trained a team of 60 volunteers and together, surveyed the habitat along the Hogsmill to identify potential and suitable 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 on 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.
Community Engagement & Internships
The project has held numerous strategy meetings and produced a structured re-introduction plan with 20 plus volunteers divided into working groups operating to put the plan into action. The Working Groups for the project include – Habitat restoration, Community engagement, Project management and Fundraising. This project started with a primary component of community engagement to raise the profile of water voles across the borough and London. In total we have run 8 community talks, 7 school talks and attended 5 community festivals.
We have also recruited a paid intern to support the administration and engagement of the project, where the role provided a valuable learning opportunity and supported their career in conservation.
Due to the lockdown we are now ramping up our virtual volunteering activities, which has lead to a crowd funder which is now live!!! We’re looking raise the funds for this project so check out some of the ways you can support and get InVoled below!