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Survival is a tough tale of the riverbank.

Andy Graham of the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust walks in Longdon Marsh, which is to be restored to its former glory to help attract an array of rare species, including the endangered water vole. The 300-acre site is an integral part of the historic landscape and once formed Worcestershire's largest and most important wetland. Agricultural drainage schemes beginning as far back as the 1870s have reduced the once extensive wetland to a few scattered remnants in field corners.

The potential loss of this much-loved creature is unthinkable. We need to act now to safeguard the few remaining colonies

Matt Jones

By Sarah Probert

Environment reporter

By Sarah Probert

Environment reporter

An increasing mink population in the Midlands is threatening the survival of rare wildlife across the region, a conservation group has warned.

The carnivorous non-native creatures are preying on vulnerable species such as water voles, which could be wiped out as a result.

An emergency plan to stop water voles becoming extinct has been launched by the Wildlife Trust following several surveys revealing its rapid decline.

A recent study in Warwickshire revealed mink had killed off a large number of water voles from sites across the county.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust found that only a third of sites where water voles were recorded previously now showed signs of the creature's presence.

Of 68 sites visited, only 14 showed evidence of strong water vole colonies, with a further nine showing evidence of a few individual animals.

Four key areas identified include north and west Coventry, the Coventry and Oxford canals from the city to Rugby, the headwaters of brooks flowing off the north Cotswold Hills, and Princethorpe Brook, a tributary of the River Leam.

Matt Jones, otters and rivers project officer for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, said: 'These results are very disappointing.

'While loss and inappropriate management of habitat have impacted on the population, the main factor in the species' accelerated decline is predation by the non-native American mink, which is now widespread throughout the county.'

Mr Jones said action was a priority if water voles were to remain living in the county. 'The potential loss of this much-loved creature is unthinkable. We need to act now to safeguard the few remaining colonies.'

The population of mink has multiplied as the animals escape or are released from fur farms across the UK.

Last week 500 mink were released by activists from a fur farm in the New Forest, in Hampshire.

Three years ago activists released 7,000 mink into the countryside from a farm in Onneley, near Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire.

Andy Graham, water for wildlife officer for Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, said: 'They do a lot of damage alongside rivers. A mink with her cubs can locate a water vole population and wipe it out within days. It is quite a serious problem for us.'

Mink are one of the most effective small hunters in the animal kingdom and, even in relatively-small numbers, they can have a devastating effect on local flora and fauna.

But they shy away from habitats where territorial otters are present and the trust now hopes that by increasing the population of otters, it can deter mink from important breeding grounds for vulnerable prey.

As part of its Water for Wildlife Campaign, sponsored by Severn Trent Water and Water UK, the trust has been working to create more habitats for water voles.

The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust has recently bought a 120-acre farm on Longdon Marsh, which was once an historic wetland in the county and home to otters, bitterns and swallowtail butterflies.

It now hopes to return the area to its former glory, to encourage water voles, shrews and wading birds such as the lapwing, snipe and curlew.

Dramatic loss of wetlands locally and nationally, which has also hit the water vole population, has made restoration of areas like Longdon Marsh a priority.

More than one quarter of all wildlife relies on wetland for its survival and the remaining fragments support some of the country's rarest plant and wildlife species.

'This restoration will bring substantial new benefits for wildlife as well as protecting what has managed to survive, including a number of impressive veteran trees which support an amazing selection of rare invertebrates,' Mr Graham added.

Watching brief: Conservationists monitoring mink which are taking a toll on rare wildlife
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 30, 2001
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