Water voles may soon be plopping into waterways across the East of England once again as funding from Natural England enables ground-breaking conservation work to roll out into more counties.

The Waterlife Recovery Trust (WRT) has been awarded £500,000 from Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme, which supports projects that aim to halt and reverse declines in populations of the country’s most threatened species. 

The CRT has been working with the WRT to eradicate American mink from East Anglia for more than two years. These invasive predators have done terrible damage to water vole populations and other native wildlife since they escaped – or were released – from fur farms in the 1940s–60s. CRT staff and volunteers have played an important role by preventing mink from Cambridgeshire entering the core area of the WRT trial in neighbouring Norfolk and Suffolk.

The project was first established in January 2021 with a grant from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency. This latest funding boost from Natural England, announced on 14th September 2023, will allow WRT to expand its work outwards from East Anglia to cover an area from the Thames to mid Lincolnshire. Neary 400 new smart traps will be deployed.

But it doesn’t end there. Essex Wildlife Trust and Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust have contributed an additional £288,000 to expand the WRT programme into Essex and Hertfordshire. Plus, three other mink trapping projects in areas adjacent to the WRT project also received funding from Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme. The WRT has already been in touch with the project leaders to set up close collaboration.

Tony Martin, Chair of the WRT, said: “The combined area of all our projects amounts to 26 per cent of England, which represents brilliant news for the future prospects of water voles and countless other native wildlife species across 15 counties.”

Bedfordshire is one of the counties that the project will now expand further into. CRT Conservation Officer Vince Lea began introducing smart traps into the county earlier this year. Vince said: “There has been very little mink trapping in Bedfordshire for the last decade. With funding and support from the Bedford Internal Drainage Board we deployed 25 mink traps and caught over 50 minks in the county this year.”

Vince added that the spectacular results of WRT’s pilot project in East Anglia have been recognised by Natural England. “Mink have been reduced to a fraction of their former population and native wildlife is already returning, most importantly water voles. This is a highly collaborative project, with many conservation organisations and volunteers involved. As we are moving into new territory it is vital to have local knowledge and assistance to find places to put the traps and volunteers who can help run the operation on the ground. If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch.

“Thanks to the expansion of this work, soon a vast swathe of England will be heading towards mink-free status and water voles will be able to return to the riverbanks.”

Click here to find out more. 

Map shows the area that the WRT project will now expand into thanks to the Species Recovery Programme funding from Natural England (dark blue), the area funded by partnering Wildlife Trusts (light blue) and the original project area (orange). © Waterlife Recovery Trust. 

Published: 19th September 2023