The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales' members and supporters will be aware that since 2014, we have been working with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to reintroduce and monitor a population of water voles to our Ffrwd Farm Mire nature reserve in Pembrey, Carmarthenshire. The water voles were bred from a small number of animals originating in the local remnant Llanelli population. The reintroduction followed a number of years of partnership work between WTSWW and NRW to improve the habitat quality at Ffrwd Farm Mire, itself a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). We have continued to monitor the water voles since their reintroduction, and the good news is that they are doing well and making good use of the extensive networks of ditches and pools that criss-cross the nineteen hectares of reedbed and marshy grassland on the reserve.
However, as well as ensuring that habitats remain suitable, one other management issue remains a priority if we are to continue to see our water voles thrive, and that’s the exclusion of the non-native American mink. Water voles are naturally predated by many British species, from foxes to otters, even herons; in fact these species will be the dominant predators by volume in water vole populations. However they can escape most of their natural predators either by swimming or by retreating to their burrows, allowing populations to withstand even high levels of predation. American mink however, which are now widespread throughout Wales, have the unique capacity to predate water voles whatever their location- unlike otters, they can fit down their burrows; there is no escape.
It is believed that predation by mink has been key to many water vole extinctions- combined with other factors like habitat loss and fragmentation, this added pressure has seen water voles tip into becoming Britain’s fastest declining native mammal of all time.
For this reason, WTSWW needs to ensure that Ffrwd Farm Mire remains mink-free. We monitor for their presence using a device known as a ‘mink raft’ – a floating contraption that is covered with a tunnel, and inside the tunnel a wet clay pad picks up prints of any animals crossing it, which can then be used to identify species.
When mink are detected, we follow up with a trapping session. It is not a nice task, but it is necessary to ensure that our water voles are safeguarded. Mink are trapped in live capture traps and then dispatched humanely according to the relevant guidelines. We are fortunate that in the last two years we have not seen many mink arrive at the site, despite their presence throughout Carmarthenshire- we receive many sightings from nearby Llanelli. Nonetheless it is important for our water voles that we continue to monitor for their presence.
This is where we need extra volunteer support. We are looking for support from some enthusiastic volunteers in the Llanelli / Pembrey / Kidwelly area who might be willing to help us with monitoring mink rafts and traps. We rely heavily on volunteers particularly during the ten day trapping runs, to visit the site on a rota basis to check whether the traps have tripped or not. It is only a monitoring and reporting role- we have a separate contact who is qualified to help us should any dispatching be required. We simply need some extra support to share out the responsibility of site visits and trap checks. You need to be able to travel independently to the reserve.
If you think you might be able to help we would be really pleased to hear from you. Please contact Lizzie on firstname.lastname@example.org