British Waterways is currently working to restore the Upper Lee Navigation, a canalised river that feeds into Thames.

Part of this work is dredging the river and rather than dump the silty sludge removed from the bed, the organisation plans to use it to create soft, muddy banks that will provide an ideal home for water voles.

The rodent residences will be installed along the banks of the upper River Lee Navigation between Cheshunt and Waltham Town.

British Waterways’ ecologist, Leela O’Dea said: “The dredged silt from the Lee Navigation is just the right sort of material that’s needed to create a soft bank, which is the best environment for burrowing animals like the water vole to make a nest in.

“These new habitats will help support the local vole population and encourage more of these shy little creatures to make the river their home.”

In February 2008, Government announced full legal protection for water voles, better known as ‘Ratty’ from Wind in the Willows.

The water vole is the UK’s fastest declining mammal, with habitat destruction and predators such as mink decimating the population over the past thirty years.

By creating new soft banked areas along the riverside, British Waterways is reclaiming land for the voles and returning it to a more natural state for them to thrive in.

Alison Washbrook, water vole officer, Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust, said: “This project is a great way to help the water voles.

“It’s essential that new habitats are created to ensure the voles have every chance to redress their dwindling numbers. Part of the value of this project is that it will link-up pockets of wetland habitats, making a safe corridor between colonies.

“Water voles are notoriously timid, but there are many methods to survey an area to check for signs that they have moved in. I hope to see them settled into to their recycled homes in the next few months.”

David Gibbs

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