A multi-agency conservation project is helping to breathe new life into the North East’s water vole population, with support from Northumbrian Water’s environmental fund Branch Out.

Naturally Native is a partnership project led by Durham Wildlife Trust together with Northumberland and Tees Valley Wildlife Trusts, operating across the entire Tyne, Wear and Tees River Catchments.


water vole - The Don.jpg


The aim is to halt the decline and aid the recovery of native water voles in the North East.


Branch Out funding of £12,200 from Northumbrian Water will support the first phase of work being carried out on the River Don, a tributary of the Tyne, and at the Hetton Burn, Rainton Burn and Moors Burn in County Durham.


Using strategies that have proved successful in Scotland and East Anglia, the project will address predation from non-native American mink, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation.


Kelly Hollings, Project Manager at Durham Wildlife Trust, said: “Funding from Northumbrian Water’s Branch Out scheme is enabling this project to make a positive difference not only the region’s water vole population, which has been in decline for many years, but also a wide range of other native wildlife,”


“Water voles are our country’s ‘bankside engineers’, whose burrowing creates niche habitats that provide opportunities for invertebrates to breed, which, in turn, can benefit fish, amphibians, small mammals.


“We are already working with landowners to survey water vole populations and monitor that of their number-one predator – American mink. We have also delivered online training to 58 volunteers, who will help us to survey the water voles, and this is being followed up with practical training.


“It’s been a great start to the project and we are excited about its potential.”


Stuart Pudney, Conservation and Land Manager at Northumbrian Water, said: “Branch Out funding is a really great way for us to make a positive contribution to our region’s environment that goes beyond what we are able to deliver ourselves.


“Great partners like the Durham, Northumberland and Tees Wildlife Trusts deliver fantastic work and we are really pleased that we have been able to support the Naturally Native project, which is a shining example of species protection and preservation.”


For 2022, Northumbrian Water’s Branch Out fund is going to be focusing on Blue Spaces and Canopies to support improvements to the water environment and the Queen’s Green Canopy project. If you know of a worthy cause, applications are open until Monday 28 February.


All applications will be carefully considered and judged against set criteria. Full details on how to apply are available at www.nwg.co.uk/responsibility/environment/branch-out-funds/branch-out/


Projects can also be supported by Northumbrian Water's employee volunteering programme, Just an Hour, which allows employees to give a minimum of 15 hours every year to support community and charitable causes close to their hearts.


Water vole image courtesy of Durham Wildlife Trust