Water voles, despite the name in the childrens' classic, are not rats and were once common on virtually every English river and stream. But now they are becoming increasingly rare.
And one of the reasons for their decline was the work of so-called "animal rights" protesters who freed thousands of American mink from fur farms throughout the UK.
Until then, the water vole had virtually no natural predators but the introduced mink were small enough to enter their riverbank holes and slaughtered the helpless native animals in their tens of thousands - along with kingfishers and sand martins, which nest in similar holes.
Today, the Yorkshire branch of the Country Landowners and Business Association (CLA) is asking members to co-operate in a project launched to save the vole by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.
Farmers and landowners in East Yorkshire are being urged to help with the conservation of the water vole.
Says Dorothy Fairburn, CLA regional director: "The water vole was listed in the UK's Biodiversity Action Plan in 1995 but numbers are still declining and we support any move to reverse this trend."
Mr Jon Trail (Tel 01430 410295) is the project officer for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and is offering the following free services to farmers and landowners:
- Surveys, information and advice on water voles and mink.
- Assistance with habitat enhancement and agri-environment schemes
- Co-ordination of an effective mink eradication scheme, including a trap loan scheme.