Bring back voles!

Bowdleflode News No. 30 – November 2020

Bringing Voles Back

Once abundant in rivers, water voles are the fastest declining mammal in the UK.  Since the 1970s their population has sharply dropped by 97%, partly due to their habitat disappearing and partly because they are being eaten by the invasive American mink.

But a community group, Citizen Zoo, in Kingston in Surrey, is working to reintroduce them to a River Thames tributary – The Hogsmill River.  A crowdfunder raised vital funds of £18,000 giving the project the go ahead.  Co-founder and born and bred Kingston resident Elliot Newton couldn’t be happier, he says:

“This is the first time a community has attempted a project like this in an urban river. A lot of good work is happening to support wildlife in the British countryside, but we want to help the rewilding movement in an urban context.”

In the 1800s, there were likely to have been thousands of water voles on the river and even up to 30 years ago, the Hogsmill was teeming with them.  Since then numbers have seen a sharp decline and the last recorded vole in Kingston was in 2017.  Similar stories have played out on other rivers up and down the country.  American minks are thought to be largely to blame for the decline.  They are an invasive species and can colonise new areas quickly. They were brought to British fur farms in the twentieth century and by the 60s they had escaped or been intentionally freed.  Minks have posed a big problem for ground-nesting birds and smaller mammals like the water vole. British rivers stand to lose much more than just a furry face if lost for good because  voles support food webs, create habitats and disperse seeds.

More than 100 Kingston residents have signed up to help already and their recent crowdfunder has raised the funds needed to buy 200 voles from a rewilding professional. Volunteers have been trained to carry out basic habitat surveys and a heatmap of good and bad habitats across the catchment has been created, displaying significant territory already present.  The voles themselves won’t be released until 2022, after that Citzen Zoo will monitor their progress.

PS.  Just in case you’re a fan of ‘The Wind in the Willows’, the book by Kenneth Grahame, ‘Ratty’ was in fact a water vole.  To the layman, water voles do look a bit like rats and are sometimes known colloquially as ‘water rats’ although they are a completely different species and not related.

Discovered! Reef taller than the Eiffel Tower

Australian researchers have just found a large, detached coral reef measuring more than 500 metres in height in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. 500 metres is about one-and-a-half times as tall as The Eiffel Tower!  The remarkable discovery was made while mapping the seafloor off the coast of far north Queensland state when scientists onboard the RV Falkor stumbled upon the huge reef – the first to be found in the last 120 years.

To fully explore the reef, the ROV SuBastian was deployed to the base of the reef and worked its way up capturing the entire process in a 4k video and collecting biological samples.  Robin Beaman, the expedition leader and a marine geologist at James Cook University, said there was marine life all the way up the reef, but near the summit where waters are warmer and sunlit, there was a thriving shallow coral reef ecosystem.

The reef is entirely separate from the Great Barrier Reef’s main shelf edge.  Little is known about why these detached reefs exist at all, and this particular one doesn’t appear to have been affected by recent bleaching events. There are seven other known detached reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, including the reef at Raine Island, one of the world’s largest sea turtle rookeries. 

Turtle with attitude!

If we dwelled for too long, it’s likely we would find plenty to be displeased about in today’s world – which is why it’s so important to enjoy a good laugh whenever you can!  Thankfully, the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards has delivered such opportunity with this cracking image of Terry the Turtle flipping the bird, submitted by Australian photographer Mark Fitzpatrick who has won this year’s coveted spot.

The competition, founded by professional photographers Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam, is a global, free-to-enter photo competition, showcasing seriously funny images of the earth’s  wildlife.  

In addition to providing some light-hearted relief, the competition aims to highlight the extremely important message of wildlife conservation in an engaging and positive manner, working with the main competition partner – The Born Free Foundation.

Bowdleflode of the Month



Created by Erik in Falcons Class, Castle Hill Primary, Chessington, Surrey, UK

This month our Bowdleflode feature has been created by Erik in Falcons Class at Castle Hill Primary in Chessington! BUMBLE DART IBERLAKEET is green and black, 15cm long and weighs 1kg.  They are scaly with a feathery head and green underneath.  Their diet consists of small insects and even small fish.  You can find them inhabiting wetland areas.

Thank you Erik for your fabulous creature!