Dear Ratty from The Wind in the Willows, wasn't a rat at all, but a rather lovely water vole - many people still call them by their old name of water rats or even just rats. You'd be forgiven for not knowing what a water vole is, as they are a species that in our lifetime has declined by over 90% in the UK, which is comparable to the decline of the black rhino in Africa (who gets a lot more PR!)
I was fortunate to be taken out yesterday to search for the elusive water vole and see some of the important nature conservation work to reverse the decline of this species and prevent it from extinction. It was a lovely day so we stopped on a bridge for a picnic whilst dangling our feet in the cool water.
The water vole lives on the riverbank, a vegetarian he bothers no one. Unfortunately he is predated by the American mink and his decline can be attributed to the minks release from fur farms years ago. He has also suffered from habitat degradation, for example cattle being allowed to drink from rivers, resulting in poached river banks destroying valuable water vole habitat.
Unfortunately we didn't see a water vole, but found its poo - a sure sign that they are there, thanks to the miles of riverbank restoration work by the National Trust, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, local volunteers and farmers.