Goodness, since our last blog, we have released a further 160 water voles back into Kielder Water & Forest Park!  This time they went into Bellingburn on the North shore of the reservoir where they are thriving.  We also put some in Catcleugh field next to Kielder Campsite and folk are seeing them in the campsite which is great!

We have spent many hours surveying, to get an understanding of where the water voles are thriving and spreading.  We’ve discovered that they are thriving along Plashetts, and Wainhope along the north of the reservoir, and although we’re still seeing evidence of their presence, they don’t appear to be doing quite so well up at Scaup and Kielder burn, could this be due to the horrific winter and the high altitude, or is the habitat not quite right for them?  We’re not too sure; more than likely a combination of both factors.

Another release is looming, approximately 300 voles will head up in August.  As well as planning our next release, we’re also preparing for our first national water vole conference to be held in Hexham Abbey on 11th and 12th October.  We are also hoping to trap more voles for our project this autumn.  And it’s time for us to start designing and installing a ratty trail and put up some interpretation.

Phew, that’s it for another month!

Graham & Kelly

Photo No 3

By Katy Barke

Imagine standing in one of the wildest landscapes in England, looking up the valley and seeing Scots pine and native woodland stretching into the distance along a meandering burn. Black grouse forage below and golden eagles soar above…

This is the future we see for the land along the Scaup Burn at Kielderhead, stretching up to the Whitelee Nature Reserve and on towards the border.

I’m really excited to tell you all about a new project that we’re running in partnership with the Forestry Commission and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund – the Kielderhead Wildwood. This is the first step of an ambitious vision to restore an area of native upland woodland about 5 miles northeast of Kielder village, along the Scaup Burn. As one of the most remote places in Britain, it is the ideal location for such a project.

Much of our upland woodland has been lost due to land-use change over millennia. Pollen analysis show that thousands of years ago a diverse woodland was supported in the area. The vision of Kielderhead Wildwood is to bring all this back, restoring natural processes and rebuilding a diverse and healthy ecosystem that will help with carbon storage and water quality. Over the next 5 years, my colleagues and our amazing volunteers will be planting tree species that we know used to be here. These include alder, birch, elm and willow, as well as Scots pine, of which a few ancient remnant trees are believed to have survived. By using local seed stock and giving nature a helping hand we will increase biodiversity and build a really resilient ecosystem. As the woodland matures, it will provide a home for declining, red-list upland bird species such as dunnock, mistle thrush, song thrush, tree pipit, woodcock and black grouse.Photo No 1

For me, this is an exciting opportunity to restore a habitat that was lost long ago because of human induced changes in the landscape. Visiting the site provides a wonderful sense of wildness and remoteness with the only sounds those of birdsong carried on the breeze and the trickling burn nearby. You can visit the site by walking out from Kielder Castle, but it’s quite a challenging hike. If you’d like to visit, keep your eyes on our website to see of any future guided visits, or better still take part in the project by volunteering and help to plant some of those trees yourself!

201609 Alder Sept 2016This is just the start of our long term vision at Kielderhead Wildwood and I can’t wait to visit again in 20 years time to see the huge impact this project will have had on both the landscape and wildlife that can be found there. Kielder is an exciting place to work because of the sheer scale of the place. Home to the biggest man-made lake in northern Europe, the largest working forest in England and Europe’s largest expanse of protected night sky, Kielder truly is a spectacular place.

 Katy Barke is Kielder Living Landscape Manager, Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Osprey watch blogI am Ellie Kent and it’s my first season here as the Osprey Watch Assistant at Kielder. I’ll be the first to admit I have a great job and everything has kicked off to a cracking start! Even the weather and the midges have been on their best behaviour (don’t worry- I have been warned this won’t last).

Not only do I get to spend all day outside in the sunshine (most days) watching oyster catchers, chaffinches and swallows skipping around Kielder Waterside, but I get to meet people from all over the country and the world as well.

I get to work with a fantastic group of volunteers who have given me an encyclopaedia of osprey knowledge and facts, handy Osprey Watch tips (such as how not to break the cupboard locks…) and the odd biscuit and coffee to keep my tummy and hands warm – even though I swear it has been sunny.

And not to mention the 4 entertaining osprey pairs (soon to be parents), which I can watch all day in the cosy cabin, newly furnished with fancy bench cushions.

Of course, being the ‘newbie’ something ridiculous had to happen. It turned out that ‘handy Osprey Watch tips’ from the volunteers didn’t necessarily nestle in my brain and a cupboard lock was accidentally broken, meaning we lost access to the necessary equipment.

There is no problem that a litter picker and a little motivation (biscuits) can’t solve. I don’t want to say I saved the day, but if that bag hadn’t been there to hold up the lid I could have easily lost an arm…

All in all I have had a great introduction to my new job and a wonderful start to the 2018 season of Osprey Watch. The visitors are happy, the ospreys are laying eggs, the volunteers are spreading wisdom and I’m in a cupboard eating biscuits.

We have visitors who journey over land and sea to see us, visitors who have stumbled across us after a lunch at the pub, real wildlife wise-guys and eager nature novices. We welcome all at Osprey Watch and we’d love you to come visit this season.

Hello! My name is Kelly Hollings and I am lucky enough to be one of the project officers, working alongside Graham Holyoak and a super team of volunteers for a project called Restoring Ratty. We are based at Kielder Castle, if you have any questions about this blog, please call us on 01434 250898.

In the summer of 2016, ‘Restoring Ratty,’ was born; a five year partnership project aimed to re-introduce water voles back into Kielder, thanks to a grant of £421,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our partners are Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust.

We are coming to the end of our first year; have learnt lots on the way, and have received so much support. Most importantly we have released 560 water voles back into Kielder on the upper catchment tributaries of the Kielder Burn and North Tyne above Kielder Reservoir.

Our first task was to assist Ecologists from Derek Gow’s consultancy, Roisin Campbell-Palmer and Ben Wright to catch Water Voles from the North Pennines to breed from for our project. Consent was given to do this from Natural England and the North Pennines AONB. Only voles under 160 grams were taken as these were juveniles born in the very last litter and had a slim chance of surviving through the winter. We caught 16 voles in total from the North Pennines. Derek Gow already had some Water voles from a re-introduction project in Scotland taking the total up to 40 water voles to breed from. It is important to only breed from water voles in the North East and Scotland in order to maintain the correct genetic haplotypes.

The Water voles spent the winter at Derek Gow’s consultancy in Devon and were paired up in March. The first young were born in late April. And in June 320 young water voles bred in captivity by Derek Gow were brought up to Kielder Water & Forest Park to be released! A huge thank you goes to all who helped us, especially our volunteers and staff from Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust. We undertook another release in August and will be repeating this for the next 2 years.

20 years ago water voles were common sights in Kielder, but were sadly wiped out by the American mink released from a local fur farm. Forestry Commission Rangers spent years trapping mink and we can now declare that Kielder is mink free and safe for the water vole’s return

Our much valued volunteers still head out into the forest twice a month to check the mink rafts for tracks; this will remain hugely important throughout the next 4 years. We need to maintain a mink free zone in order for the release of water voles to be successful. We are pleased to report that we have found no confirmed signs of mink since this project began. We are always happy to welcome new volunteers, if you would like to find out more, please contact Kelly Hollings, Kelly.hollings@northwt.org.uk

We have begun to roll out our 3-way school Education programme. In September we worked with Terrington Hall School in York who helped us capture some voles from a Forestry Commission site in the North York Moors, to breed from for our next release. In March 2018, we shall be working with St Davids School in Exeter and Devon Wildlife Trust, who will be visiting Derek Gow’s farm and learning about the breeding of water voles. Bellingham Middle School will help us with the next release in June 2018.

You can follow the progress of the project:
via Facebook at: www.facebook.com/Restoring Ratty or
via the Trust website: www.nwt.org.uk/restoringratty
This video gives a flavour of our first year from start to finish, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko7UktGXFqg&t=360s

There are some days at work that you know you will remember for the rest of your life. Since I’ve started working at Kielder, I’ve already had a few…

Mid-June saw the return of a much-loved mammal back into Kielder Water & Forest Park – the water vole!

So why is the project called Restoring Ratty? Probably the most well-known water vole can be found in the classic children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ –‘Ratty’, that charismatic and kind gentleman who lives on the river bank. Sadly, the water vole has been lost from 97% of its original British range in the past 30 years, mainly through predation by the introduced American mink. Although water voles were historically present within Kielder Water & Forest Park, water voles have not been seen in the area for at least 20 years.

Water vole in Kielder Water & Forest Park credit Katy CookBringing the water vole back to Kielder has been a long process, with much work taking place in the preceding years by my colleagues at Northumberland Wildlife Trust and our partners in the Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust, along with other individuals and organisations. To make sure that they are returning to a safe habitat, volunteers have been checking mink rafts in strategic locations around the forest to ensure that mink can no longer be found here. The Forestry Commission has done much to improve water vole habitat, leaving open areas next to water courses after felling which means banksides have more light, allowing a greater range of plants to grow.

With thousands of checks confirming that there are no mink in Kielder, and much work on habitat improvement, we have every confidence that the conditions are right for the voles to thrive.

The first step of the project was to find water voles to use as breeding stock for our reintroduction programme. Individuals have been taken from stable populations in Scotland and the North Pennines (so that they are genetically similar to the water voles that were here in years gone by). The voles then travelled to Devon to spend time with Derek Gow and his team who are experts in water vole captive breeding techniques.

I joined the Restoring Ratty team of staff and volunteers to release the last few individuals out into the wild. During the previous week, over 300 water voles had been returned to various locations in Kielder. Walking along the meandering burns with some of our dedicated volunteers, it was the most wonderful thing to see the wide smiles on their faces as they released these much-loved animals back into the wild. All of their hard work and dedication over the previous years had finally paid off!

In the afternoon, we took the children from Kielder First School up to the release site and what a delight to see their excitement and hear the many ‘oohs’ and ‘awwwwwwws’. These children must be some of the most well-versed in conservation in England as they get to be involved in so many different projects taking place in the Park! I’m sure the sight of water voles swimming away from us across the pond is something they’ll remember forever – it’s certainly something that will stay with me.

If you want to spot them for yourself, the best chance currently is to visit the wildlife hide on the forest drive which is accessed from Kielder Castle – there is a small fee payable for going up in your car. An alternative is to walk up the track and leave your car behind, which is about 1.5miles each way. Further introductions will be taking place over the lifetime of the project, with the next release scheduled for August.

None of this would be possible without funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, so a huge thank you to them (and to you if you buy a lottery ticket!).

If you want to keep up with the progress of the water voles, visit the ‘Restoring Ratty’ website www.nwt.org.uk/restoringratty and the ‘Restoring Ratty’ Facebook page for updates, photos and a video of the first release.