The BBC’s most popular rural show visited North Warwickshire in search of Britain’s fastest declining mammal, the water vole, discovering the hidden landscape of the Tame Valley Wetlands on their way.
BBC Countryfile filming along the canal © Ebony Chapman, TVWLPS 2017
On Sunday 30th April’17, BBC Countryfile teamed up with the Tame Valley Wetlands Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS) and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to discuss the landscape-scale projects that are helping to bring water voles back from the brink of extinction.
Water voles once thrived in the Tame Valley Wetlands – a unique, watery landscape between Birmingham and Tamworth (click here to find out more about the Tame Valley Wetlands). However over the last few decades water voles have been wiped out due to habitat loss, poisoning and predation by the non-native invasive American mink. Now, with funding from the National Heritage Lottery Fund and help from local volunteers and landowners, the Tame Valley Wetlands LPS is putting measures in place to help restore the landscape, encouraging the return of this iconic animal in the process.
The Water Vole © Dean Eburne 2017
Water voles can still be found just outside the Tame Valley Wetlands around Atherstone and Nuneaton. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is working to improve habitat connectivity to help populations survive and spread further into the Tame Valley via the Coventry Canal and River Anker.
New BBC Countryfile presenter Steve Brown came to visit one of the Trust’s most innovative ideas – to create water vole ‘motels’ along the Coventry Canal, which are made up of natural coir rolls full of water vole-friendly plants. They line up adjacent to the steel erosion guards, which are used to protect the canal banks but ultimately stop water voles from being able to get out…until now.
Presenter Steve Brown with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Tim Precious © Ebony Chapman, TVWLPS 2017
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Wetland Officer, Tim Precious said “A big part of our National Lottery funded water vole project is to encourage water voles to disperse out from strongholds that have developed in North Warwickshire in recent years,. The ‘water vole motels’ act as crucial stepping stones along poor habitat helping water voles to move into uninhabited areas like the Tame Valley Wetlands. Importantly, this increases the long-term sustainability of our regional population making sure we can continue to enjoy watching these beloved little mammals busying themselves on the river and canal bank far into the future.”
The Tame Valley Wetlands LPS is also using coir mats and rolls to improve habitat, as well as re-naturalising sections of the River Tame and its floodplain, where water voles will hopefully soon call home. BBC Countryfile visits one of the scheme’s latest projects at Kingsbury Water Park where a new 6 hectare community wetland has been created with the help of funding from the Environment Agency, National Heritage Lottery Fund, Biffa Award and the Howard Victor Skan Charitable Trust.
Filming in the Tame Valley Wetlands at Kingsbury Water Park © Ebony Chapman, TVWLPS 2017
Tame Valley Wetlands LPS Scheme Manager, Tim Haselden said “We had a great day out with the BBC Countryfile team showing them just what an amazing and hidden landscape we have and how it has undergone such change over the last century. With river water quality improving and the work we’re delivering in partnership over a large area, we are hopeful that water voles, along with many other species, will be flourishing again in the area soon.”
Countryfile’s Warwickshire adventure aired on BBC One at 7pm on Sunday 30th April’17.
Missed it? Catch-up on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here (we’re exactly 16 minutes into the show).
The Tame Valley Wetlands LPS is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund with the vision of creating a wetland landscape, rich in wildlife and accessible to all. The Tame Valley Wetlands is led by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with 22 organisations including charities, local groups, statutory bodies and councils.
Notes for Editors:
1. The Tame Valley Wetlands Landscape Partnership (TVWLP) has a vision of creating a wetland landscape, rich in wildlife and accessible to all. There are 22 organisations on the Partnership and the Board consists of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust (Lead Partner), the Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency, North Warwickshire Borough Council, the RSPB, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and Warwickshire County Council.
2. The Tame Valley Wetlands (Landscape Partnership) Scheme will be delivered by the TVWLP between 2014 and 2018. The Partnership will receive £1.7 million funding from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, enabling a £2.5 million scheme to be delivered, which aims to restore built and natural heritage and reconnect local people with their landscape. The scheme covers a 104 km² area of the Tame Valley Wetlands between Birmingham and Tamworth, in North Warwickshire and south-east Staffordshire.
Work will focus on conserving and enhancing approximately 50 hectares of river and wetland habitat and restoring two Grade II listed structures on the canal network. The scheme includes the development of the Tame Way – linking, enhancing and promoting a network of footpaths, bridleways and cycle routes between Birmingham and Tamworth. Plans are also in place for a new interpretation centre at Kingsbury Water Park and an interactive website and phone app, providing easily accessible information and resources to help people explore and discover the Tame Valley Wetlands.
The initiative will also provide volunteering and training opportunities for local people and support groups working to look after their local area. A series of events and activities will also be delivered, with the aim of engaging with hundreds of school children, young people and members of the public. Informal training will be provided through taster days, with the chance for people to learn new skills and improve their CVs through more formal, accredited training programmes.
Wetlands provide a vital role in reducing flooding and improving water quality, whilst their biodiversity-rich habitats also provide an important home for wildlife and a place for sensitive recreation and relaxation. The Tame Valley Wetlands are a ‘blue lung’ in an area of the country otherwise dominated by transport routes and development.
3. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) is the lead partner on the TVWLP. The Trust is the largest local conservation charity working across Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull. Their main purpose is to promote the interests of wildlife, wild places and the natural environment for the wider benefit of society, people and local communities. They promote a better natural environment for local wildlife and local people as part of the aim to create a Living Landscape in the West Midlands where wildlife and local people can live and thrive together. WWT manages 61 nature reserves, covering over 800 hectares and is a voluntary membership organisation supported by more than 23,000 individual members, over 20 corporate members and over 700 volunteers. For more information, visit www.warwickshirewildlifetrust.org.uk.
4. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, they invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported over 36,000 projects with more than £6bn across the UK. For more information, visit www.hlf.org.uk.