BUSINESSES, farmers and landowners are being asked to make donations to help the endangered water vole survive in upland areas of the North-East.

Durham Wildlife Trust is trying to raise £30,000 for a project that would create habitats for the creatures, which are dying out in many parts of the country.

The trust has written to landowners, farmers and businesses in the County Durham and Wearside areas asking them to help.

As well as seeking donations, the trust says it can help them access funding for work on water vole habitats.

The support is crucial to the project, because the trust is responsible for much of the land where vole habitats can be found.

Durham Wildlife Trust has run a project in lowland urban areas for the past three years, which has included raising awareness of the needs of the creature and protecting and creating habitats.

The success of the project, which has included a number of North-East companies, has encouraged the trust to attempt a similar programme in upland North Pennines areas, where isolated pockets of voles still live.

Richard Wood, chief executive of the trust, said: "The water voles in this area represent the only known populations in the upland areas of the North-West and North-East regions of England and, as such, their regional importance cannot be underestimated.

"Water voles in lowland areas are subject to a wider range of pressures, particularly from the expansion of urban areas and habitat degradation, so the upland populations may represent the best chance for the long-term survival of the species.

"The habitat requirements of water voles are well understood, and by encouraging landowners and farmers to manage their land in a more effective way, we hope to dramatically expand the range of suitable habitat."

Water voles, immortalised in Kenneth Graeme's children's book The Wind in the Willows, have been dying out for decades and are one of the UK's most threatened species. Vole numbers have declined by more than 90 per cent in recent years due to the loss of riverbank habitats and predation by mink.

The animals need pollution-free waterways with plenty of bankside vegetation, such as reeds and grass, to provide shelter. Voles are most likely to be found in streams and the trust says that work to ensure the health of such waterways can also benefit creatures such as the similarly endangered native white-clawed crayfish.

Anyone interested in supporting the trust's work is asked to call 0191-584 3112.

Published: 15/11/2005