The elusive Water Vole
An important theme of the book is the rich variety of wildlife on the chalk streams and to have images of the typical species to be found there. Most importantly to have images of rare and threatened species. The Water Vole nearly became extinct because of loss of habitat, as a result of modern farming methods and housing development. Mink were also a problem. In recent years the mink problem is much reduced but the main reason there is something of an increase in Water Vole population is the substantial effort of wildlife trusts and similar organisations who have restored and protected suitable habitats and reintroduced Water Voles to these locations. The wildlife trusts monitor the fragile populations with the help of a small army of local volunteers. You may see tethered floats in some of these ditches and channels. These platforms are used by the Water Voles, leaving evidence of their visits.
The Water Vole in the shot here is the result of four 120 mile round trips and the help of Ali Morse (Hampshire & Isle Wight Wildlife Trust) and Elaina Whittaker-Stark (South Downs National Park Authority) who identified the locations of a number of recent sitings. Unfortunately these extremely shy animals are usually seen, if at all, very briefly and therefore the chances of coinciding with my visits with a camera were not good. Pleasant but long hours and many miles lugging camera equipment around the locations was not showing any results at all and I was on my fourth unsuccessful trip and had arranged to meet Elaina for a thank you drink in East Meon. I was a few minutes early so revisited a tiny channel of the Meon chalk stream - more a ditch really - and looked over a low wall to spot a Water Vole peering out of his burrow. I don’t know who was the most surprised! I was able to quickly shoot off a few frames before it disappeared. The resulting shot has just won the runner up prize in the the wildlife category of the South Downs National Park annual photographic competition.
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