Water vole revival at Malham Tarn

A water vole perches on a wooden post
Published : 25 May 2017 Last update : 27 Mar 2019

Rare water voles are flourishing against the odds in England’s highest freshwater lake following a reintroduction programme last summer.

More than a hundred water voles, which were the inspiration for Wind in the Willows’ Ratty, were released onto streams around Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales in August 2016. It was the first time water voles had been seen on the lake in 50 years.

And, in an adventure worthy of Ratty, Mole and Toad from the Kenneth Grahame classic, the water voles are spreading across the lake – in ways that our rangers could never have dreamed.

Survey work has shown that the water voles – which are the UK’s fastest declining land mammal – have spread up to a kilometre from the original release site.

Roisin Black, ranger at Malham Tarn, says: 'After a mild, wet winter in 2016/17, we were worried that the water levels around the tarn may rise too high and flood the burrows. But it turns out that the voles have spread out across one side of the tarn.'

More voles released

In 2017 a further hundred of these rare mammals were released by the rangers at Malham Tarn. The water voles, which have been specially bred by expert ecologists at Derek Gow Consultancy, were released in sibling groups and breeding pairs. The release was staggered over seven days, due to the different needs of the groups and pairs.

Volunteers help with the water vole release at Malham Tarn
Volunteers help with the water vole release at Malham Tarn
Volunteers help with the water vole release at Malham Tarn

Wildlife benefits

The reintroduction is part of a plan to restore wildlife in the Yorkshire Dales. The charity cares for 8,000 hectares of woodland, meadows and moor in the Dales – England’s second largest National Park.

The water voles are helping to restore Malham Tarn’s sensitive lowland fen fringe – one of fifty ‘priority’ habitats handpicked by the government as in need of support. Earlier this year we committeed to create 25,000 hectares of new ‘priority’ nature habitats across England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2025.

Roisin Black adds: 'The water voles are already changing the look of the tarn-side streams. The banks used to be straight-sided, almost like canals. But by burrowing into the banks, the voles have created much more natural-looking streams with shady pools that should be really good for invertebrates and small fish.'

Rangers will continue to carry out water vole surveying, looking for signs like the animals’ ‘litter’ (excrement), burrows and nibbled grass ends.

'It lets us estimate the number of water voles we have here at Malham Tarn,' says Roisin.

Can you help?

You can help protect the water voles at Malham Tarn by donating to our Just Giving page. Every penny raised through our page will be committed to activity to help give the water voles the best chance of re-colonizing and your support really means a lot to us.