A PROJECT to reintroduce water voles to Moors Valley Country Park near Ringwood has been a success, say experts.

Numbers of the mammals in the area declined after animal activists released 6,000 mink from a fur farm near Ringwood in 1998.

The first water voles were released in the park last summer following extensive riverbank clearance and monitoring for predatory mink.

Their survival led to a second release this summer, with 120 water voles joining those already established in the river systems, introducing new bloodlines and a boost to the existing population. Now water voles are now being spotted regularly at Moors Valley.

Countryside ranger Matt Reeks said: “The water vole is Britain’s fastest declining mammal.

And that decline has been caused principally by loss of habitat and predation by North American mink. For a successful reintroduction we needed not only to ensure they had a suitable immediate habitat but also to monitor a wide area both inside and outside the park to make sure we were not bringing the water vole to a river system where they would quickly be eaten by mink.”

The team was assisted by the UK’s leading water vole conservation specialist Derek Gow, and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust - the inventors of the mink raft.

Eleven rafts were put in the river, enabling the rangers to collect evidence about the local mammal population.

After a year of regular monitoring, the area was declared mink free and the reintroduction went ahead.

Mr Reeks added: “The mink rafts have been designed to attract curious mammals, and once on board they walk over a clay pad which very neatly records their tracks.”