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Chris Packham joins effort to save water voles in Cambridge amid riverbank proposals

Wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham has backed a campaigner who is desperately trying to save a group of water voles from losing their habitat under a city council proposal to spruce up the riverbank.

The endangered animals are protected in law as there are only thought to be 100,000 left in the UK.

Water vole at Jesus Green Brook. Picture: John Lindsell
Water vole at Jesus Green Brook. Picture: John Lindsell

John Lindsell, a retired microbiologist, has been monitoring a family group of around eight of the creatures for several years at Jesus Green Brook.

So he was horrified to discover that Cambridge City Council has proposed removing 80 metres of a concrete ditch bank under which the animals live to create “a more natural boundary”.

The council says it wants to “lower the bank to create suitable conditions for a more diverse wetland flora to flourish”. It also proposes planting a wildflower meadow nearby with a raised deck and viewing platform over the new wetland area, plus information board for visitors.

Now Springwatch presenter Chris Packham has asked his 540,000 Twitter followers to write to the city council to complain about the plans. He said: “If you have a moment, could you raise your concerns about Cambridge City Council’s @camcitco development of Jesus Green Brook, Cambridge?

“It has the potential to harmfully impact a long-established #WaterVole colony.”

Chris Packham
Chris Packham

John said of the scheme: “I’m incredibly happy that Chris Packham is on board I hope people will listen to him even if they don’t listen to me. I’m sure this project is being done with the best intentions, but it is illegal to disturb nesting water voles. They are just absolutely charming creatures and are so special and so incredibly rare. It is crucial we keep this population going.

“The council should spend a bit more time on cleaning out the brook itself and getting rid of the rubbish and duckweed as opposed to knocking down the concrete bank and building some sort of cosmetically pleasing thing for the general public, which is not going to help the voles at all.

“I’m 100 per cent certain if this project goes ahead that they would lose the water voles.

Water vole in Cambridge. Picture: Neil Bramwell
Water vole in Cambridge. Picture: Neil Bramwell

“Last year when I visited them, I sat really quietly and I had multiple babies and adults sitting by my feet on the concrete bank, and they were actually nibbling the vegetation and swimming across to the other side of the brook. They are thriving here.”

Cllr Alex Collis (Lab, King’s Hedges), executive councillor for open spaces said: “Our proposals are about protecting wildlife and enhancing the site for water voles by creating a wetland with a higher diversity of aquatic plants for food and cover.

“This project is still at a very early stage, and no decisions have been made yet. It still needs to be considered through the planning process. We have commissioned two water vole surveys from experts MKA Ecology that have so far indicated low use of the concrete bank that we propose to remove.

Water vole at Jesus Green Brook. Picture: John Lindsell
Water vole at Jesus Green Brook. Picture: John Lindsell

“However, we’re carrying out a further survey this month to gather more information and we will adapt our proposals in the light of the results.

“Everything we do with this project will be led by our desire to enhance and support biodiversity and support water voles in the area.”

To comment on the planning application, visit shorturl.at/guFHX.

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