Children help return water voles to Meon Valley

Pupils from Great Ballard School join South Downs rangers to help release water voles. Picture: South Downs National Park
Pupils from Great Ballard School join South Downs rangers to help release water voles. Picture: South Downs National Park

Schoolchildren from Eartham were given hands-on conservation experience when they helped release water voles into the River Meon.

Eight year-six pupils from Great Ballard School visited the river at East Meon to help feed the water voles in their release pens.

Two of the pupils then helped Jonathan Dean, education officer for the South Downs National Park, lead a special school assembly four days later. They talked about their experience and the National Park’s work to re-introduce water voles on to the river, where they had been locally extinct.

The National Park is now in the fifth and final year of its project to return the water voles to the Meon Valley. South Downs rangers have been working with landowners to control the mink population – responsible for the water voles’ extinction – and improve the habitat.

As part of their visit the children learned about the release process. Water voles are moved into release pens, where they get used to their new surroundings and gradually release themselves into the wild.

They also learned how to identify different footprints left by mammals that have explored the monitoring rafts on the river over the course of the project.