October 11, 2008

Offices Harm Rare Voles ; Numbers Tumble Since Complex Built on Tyneside

By Paul James

WILDLIFE experts are calling for better protection for water voles after it emerged they have fled a Tyneside stream since an office development was built.

They say population figures have gone from "strong" to almost nothing since the animals' Longbenton watercourse was diverted when Balliol Business Park was created in 2001.

Developers at one stage halted building and spent pounds 150,000 on rerouting a road and installing two bridges over the stream after working with North Tyneside Council, English Nature, the Environment Agency and Northumberland Wildlife Trust on protective measures.

At the time, the wildlife trust described the letch on the development as the "best water vole site on Tyneside", but now says there are few signs of the species.

There are now plans to build a school nearby, which have prompted the trust to call for new measures to protect the water voles. The school will be created in Hailsham Avenue to replace both Goathland Primary and Glebe Schools.

In a statement to planners, the trust has asked for "detailed mitigation" to prevent further damage and loss of the species.

It said: "A strong population of water vole were recorded on this stretch of the letch until recent development of the Balliol Business Park to the west of the realigned burn and caused a serious decline in the population present. Few signs of the presence of this species have been found since this previous development was given permission to alter this watercourse."

Water voles are now given full protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the council must ensure developments do not harm the creatures.

In a statement yesterday, North Tyneside Council said: "There is no statutory duty to survey water vole numbers, however as a council this is something we do take very seriously and are very proactive in our work to protect water voles. The council commissioned Northumberland Wildlife Trust to do surveys to record numbers of water voles in 2002 and 2006. Our recent 5-50-500 environmental campaign also includes projects to improve habitats for water voles.

"Consultants have been appointed as part of this development and part of their remit has included producing a survey of water voles and producing plans for mitigation work to prevent disruption."

Numbers of water voles have been falling nationally because of loss of habitat, pollution and predators, and recently North Tyneside Council carried out improvements for water voles along the nearby Wallsend Burn.

A survey in 2002 found 15 water vole sites in the borough, which had dropped to seven four years later, since when the authority has been taking steps to keep water voles in its area.

The school plans are to be referred to the Secretary of State, with North Tyneside planners recommending their approval subject to no construction work taking place within 10m of the letch to ensure water voles are protected.


THE water vole is best known because of the character "Ratty" in The Wind in the Willows.

They are about the size of a small rat, but are quite different.

The rat has a pointed face with large eyes and large, hairless ears and a longer body, with a long naked tail.

But the water vole has a round face with small eyes and small hairy ears, a shorter, rounder body with a short, slightly hairy tail.

(c) 2008 The Journal - Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.