by Fran Southgate

The water vole is a key biodiversity indicator species and the fastest declining native British mammal. In the last 20 years, over 90% of the population has been lost both nationwide and in Sussex. This is mainly due to habitat loss through land drainage, development and intensive management of water courses, exacerbated by release of the non-native American mink from the 1950's onwards. In 2000, it was predicted that water voles would become extinct in the county if significant efforts were not made to help halt this decline.

In Sussex there are now only a few key meta-populations of water voles likely to survive in the long term. These are found on Chichester coastal plain, Pett, Brede and Romney Levels, and the Arun Valley. The populations located in the Brede Valley are highly significant within the county, and their protection is essential if the extinction of the water vole in Sussex is to be prevented.

Significant efforts have been made to work with landowners to ensure the recovery of water voles within the local area. Some of this work recently contributed to establishing the largest Site of Special
Scientific Interest (SSSI) for water voles in the UK.

The provision and adoption of sound land and habitat management advice on a catchment scale is an essential step in restoring valuable wildlife habitats across this whole area, whilst also at the same time improving farming conditions. If watercourses and the surrounding land are managed sensitively, there can be widespread benefits to the biodiversity of the area as a whole.

Work has been done to encourage forward-thinking land management and to encourage wetland restoration, more sustainable use of land and water resources, improvement of water quality, and the provision of larger areas of flood storage. You can read more about this work on the website www.sussexotters.org.

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