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If you have ever visited the beautiful and historic town of Arundel, you may have enjoyed a stroll along Mill Road and the stream below the Castle.Whilst wandering along you may also have heard a distinctive ‘plop’ – if so, there is a very high chance that you heard a water vole (Arvicola terrestris) entering the water.This small furry mammal, made famous as the character Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, inhabits the banks of the stream near Arundel Castle.The water vole is found throughout Britain, usually near open water, and they can dive and swim with ease.Occurring along well vegetated banks of slow flowing rivers, ditches or lakes, they are sometimes confused with brown rats (who are also often found near water courses) and are occasionally referred to as the ‘water rat’, which is how ‘Ratty’ got his name.While Ratty and his friends come out on top against the squatting stoats in the story book – in real life water voles are not doing so well.A national survey in 1989-90 revealed they had disappeared from 68% of sites occupied earlier in the century. More recent evidence indicates that water voles have disappeared from 94% of their former sites.The water voles on the Mill Road stream are descendants of the water voles reintroduced at WWT Arundel Wetland Centre in 2005. Over 150 were released and they have successfully bred and dispersed around the reserve and into the countryside beyond.With water voles becoming increasingly rare, conservation efforts like this are vital for the survival of what is now the UK’s fastest declining mammal.Water voles are legally protected in Britain, but it seems to be a combination of factors which have affected the water volesOne of the main problems they face is that they’ve lost a lot of the grassy banks they used to live on because people have made changes like removing the vegetation and putting cement along the sides of streams.Other factors include poor water quality and predation by mink.From the 11 August until 2 September, the RSPB will be running a Date with Nature project along Mill Road, where they will be showing visitors the water voles, explaining more about the problems they face and how people can help little Ratty.
How Cute? One of the water voles along Mill Road, Arundel.