A PROJECT involving air rifles is being deemed a huge success as the popular water vole has returned to a Cheshire riverbank.
American mink, a known predator of the water vole, are being trapped along the River Gowy between Mickle Trafford and Huxley by local members of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.
The mink are then humanely shot with an air rifle – 24 have been taken since the Green Shoots Programme started in 2008.
Ben Gregory, BASC’s Cheshire biodiversity project officer, reported that the rise in water vole population was proof that the programme was working.
He said: “We have had a population recovery of water voles as a direct result of our input within two years. That is good going by any standard.
“Resurveying took place in 2009 and there was strong evidence of water voles in new areas.
“There was also evidence of a new population, namely a network of water vole burrows high up on the bank, at one of the sites we provided for surveying.”
Ten trapping points have been set up along the 20km stretch of the River Gowy and it is expected that more of the once common water vole, immortalised by the character ‘Ratty’ in childrens book Wind in the Willows, will emerge in greater numbers.
The BASC project is organised in partnership with the Cheshire Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and the North West Water Vole Project.
NWWV officer Andrea Powell said: “It is fantastic to see the return of water voles in such a short space of time. Mink control and habitat restoration has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the water vole populations along the Gowy.
“By continuing to work in partnership with BASC we are keen to see similar successes in the North West.”