Water Voles are a protected species and their habitats are important.
Up until 2002 the Reservoir Basin, and Blue Beck in particular, had been home to a regionally important population of water voles, as was confirmed by a survey by the Yorkshire Mammal Group in 1997 when a training day was held for the Yorkshire Otter and Rivers Project.
In 2002 the Internal Drainage Board dredged and reprofiled the banks of Blue Beck for it’s length, despite the presence of obvious water vole nests, dumping the dredgings on the banks at the same time destroying some long-standing Tansy Beetle habitats in the process. Despite protests nothing was done about this, flood management being the controlling factor over the Wildlife and Countryside Act. As additional scrapes were introduced, including some long ones parallel to the Barrier Bank, it was always hoped that the water voles might somehow return as the management became less invasive.
In the spring of 2015 our ecologist, Martin Hammond, thought he recognized signs of water vole grazing but without any tell-tale latrines. We then asked if the Yorkshire Mammal Group would survey the area again, which Ann Hanson and colleagues kindly offered to do. Throughout the summer of 2015 brief observations of the rafts they’d placed showed little sign, but with the growth of plants around, they was difficult to observe however in late July 2015 real signs were seen. First an individual thought he’d seen a water vole splashing into one of the new scrapes, and then Ann checked again – a massive latrine and droppings on one of the rafts.
The monitoring had been carried on through the summer of 2015 and a mammal trapping event in the September gave us some further data of what small mammals existed on the site. As well as the massive latrine a number of the other rafts had Water Vole droppings on them .
There were also Water Vole feeding signs quite extensively in the marshy area north of Blue Beck in the winter of 2014/2015. Compared with how people normally think of Water Voles living in burrows in stream banks, it’s far more common for Water Voles to nest above ground in the Vale of York/Humberhead Levels than to excavate burrows because most populations are associated with fens or mires rather than watercourses. The nests are very rarely evident, often being found within the fibre of large tussocks.
On the basis of what has been observed it was decided to re-model what had been labelled the MMB scrape, after the contractors MMB kindly dug it out for us in 2013, and extend the the established Phragmites scrape, where the Water Voles had been feeding and toileting, onto it. This will be fenced off to let the vegetation extend, including the Lesser Marshwort, and keep out the cattle and give more privacy to the Water Voles.
Anne Heathcote from Freshwater Habitats Trust (FHT) kindly came down to help with the work by Don and a hired digger. The Heritage Lottery Fund have funded this work being supported by FHT.
The Friends have also paid for the Vale of York Trust for Conservation Volunteers to carry on work they started clearing the banks of Blue Beck in the the Reservoir Basin of the more invasive weeds. As well as Water Vole in the stream there was a history of Harvest Mice nesting in the surrounding area.