The cost of moving water voles during dredging on the Somerset Levels has rocketed to £135,000—that’s £2,454 per vole—and more than previously claimed. The Environment Agency says they have a legal duty to move the creatures and put them up in animal hostels over the winter. But a local farmer believes they are smart enough to sort out their own winter accommodation.
"They’re not stupid," says the Somerset farmer, "they’ll feel the vibration and move on. It’s not like they haven’t any other habitat to move on to. The riverbank adjoins fields so they can move from the riverbanks to the fields."
Animal experts advised the Environment Agency that they needed to capture the voles in traps and then provide winter accommodation for them, at a cost of £24,000. Along with other expenses, £86,000 was spent on a wildlife survey to identify this need. The farmer, however, disputes this necessity, saying that during previous dredging the voles had been left to get on with it and take care of themselves.
It was only when the Environment Agency got involved that they had to facilitate the transport and accommodation of the voles, which have now been relocated to Hampshire and Cornwall. Whether there will be a further cost in making sure the voles settle happily into their new homes has not been commented on, but an ecology expert said the high cost derived from the need for professional, academically trained staff to manage the transition, often "undertaking sometimes long, arduous hours in the field to make sure it’s up to the standard that is required nowadays."
Locals will be reassured to hear that this is only a fraction of the £6m of taxpayers’ money beings spent by the Environment Agency on dredging five miles of the rivers Tone and Parrett.
Tim Newark, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance