ALMOST 300 water voles have been released into the wild as a project to strengthen their numbers in the region continues.

Voles bred in captivity from individuals captured in the Pennines, North Yorkshire and Scotland, were put into streams flowing into the east end of Kielder Reservoir, by the Restoring Ratty water vole reintroduction project.

The sixth release of 284 animals, takes the number released to 1,489 since June 2017.

Now in its fourth year, Restoring Ratty is a five-year partnership project between Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry England and Tyne Rivers Trust.

The project is committed to the reintroduction of water voles to the Kielder area of Northumberland, and is funded with a grant of £421,000 from The National Heritage Lottery Fund.

All signs indicate that water voles released in 2017 and 2018 are thriving well as they are known to have bred, spread and formed populations several kilometres away from their release sites. A final release is planned in June 2020.

The team hopes to increase awareness of mink and water voles with landowners down the North Tyne Valley to allow its members to gain a better idea of mink locations in the wider area and to ensure the threat to water voles from mink is minimal.

Graham Holyoak, Restoring Ratty Project Officer said: “Over the past couple of years we have learnt so much about water voles from the past five releases.

“The Restoring Ratty project is a wonderful project to be involved with and it would not have been possible without support from National Lottery players.

"We all sincerely hope the voles will continue breeding well and spread throughout Kielder Water & Forest Park and eventually down the North Tyne Valley.”