A community project hoping to reintroduce water voles to a river in Kingston has raised £12,000.
Get inVOLED hopes to reintroduce 200 water voles to the Hogsmill River in Kingston by Spring 2022.
The project was launched by Citizen Zoo, a re-wilding organisation, in July last year and is endorsed by Kingston Council and the Environment Agency.
Kingston Council Biodiversity Officer and project founder Elliot Newton, 30, said: “We are really chuffed.
“Water voles are the fastest declining mammal in the U.K., this is due to habitat deterioration and degradation, mainly due to the American Mink.”
The invasive American Mink species are believed to have escaped from British fur farms as well as being released by animal welfare activists in the 1980s.
Newton said: “Water voles play a key role in an eco-system, they can eat 227 plant species which makes them important seed dispersers and they act as an important prey base for larger animals.”
The last water vole recorded on the Hogsmill was in 2014.
The community led project comprises of 100 volunteers ageing from 10 to 75 years old.
Mr Newton said: “Nature can appeal to all ages, the good thing about our project is that it’s an opportunity to work with all sorts of people from different backgrounds.
“The water vole is quite a cute animal which draws people in, which then allows us to raise awareness of the importance of animal conservation locally.”
The project is the first of its kind where a community has come together to reintroduce water voles to an urban river.
The water voles will be purchased from Derek Gow, 55, a specialist wildlife breeder based on the Devon and Cornwall border who also breeds beaver, wild cats and storks.
Mr Gow has bred over 25,000 water voles in his career.
The voles need to be one-year-old before they are released.
The site for the project is a 4km stretch of well-connected habitat on Thames Water owned land along the Hogsmill River, which is currently undergoing habitat restoration.
Ed Davey, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said: “This is a fantastic community-led project to bring one of the nation’s most recognisable, but sadly endangered, mammals back from the brink in a habitat it used to call home.
“Citizen Zoo is an example of where local people can pull together to achieve something great, demonstrating how communities can help to reverse local extinction events and I’m delighted to support the cause.”
Find out more at https://www.citizenzoo.org/water-voles/.