Water Vole follow up

As ever, Nick Townsend has been the voice of reason and acting as mediator between myself and the South Milton Ley Reserve manager. My sense of frustration has reached the point where I no longer see any future in continuing a dialogue. The feedback I have received is limited and no explanation has been offered as to why the Water Vole habitat was destroyed. Apparently, there were no signs of Water Vole in the area at the time! Not surprising when you consider that in the eleven years since they were reintroduced at South Huish Reserve or the six years since they were first reliably reported at SML the manager has consistently failed to secure any hard evidence of their presence at either site. Maybe his skillset is more limited than he realises as the experts from Devon Biodiversity Records Centre identified signs of burrows, latrines and feeding at 14 locations at South Huish and a further 13 locations at SML. All in one day!

The left-hand photo above shows the results of the 2021 water Vole survey at South Milton Ley (red dots) and the four brown areas in the right-hand, aerial photo the margins strimmed down to bare earth. A depressingly close match in my opinion. All very confusing when the agreed plan for the vegetation at Horswell Ditch was to encourage Sedge and Cetti’s Warblers to breed in the margins. Maybe my ecological knowledge is out of date and both species actually prefer short-mown turf!

My original inclination had been to report the incident to the Devon and Cornwall Police Wildlife Crimes Group but, having calmed down and, in the absence of anyone currently willing or able to take on the manager’s role, and also being reluctant to jeopardise my ringing activities by antagonising Devon Bird’s Council, I have agreed to include a comprehensive ditch management protocol, incorporating all the legal and best practice requirements relating to Water Voles, in the draft 2021-2026 management pan for the site. My suggestion to Devon Bird’s Council is that they should consider making it a requirement that reserve managers must consult with their local Conservation Officer before commencing any operation not already covered in an existing management plan.

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