Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Saturday, 7 March 2009

Bid to boost water vole numbers

Water vole
The trees will be removed to enhance vegetation growth for the voles

Water voles are being encouraged to return to a river in Northumberland as part of a 2m conservation project.

Conservation officers are chopping down trees along the banks of the River East Allen to create the ideal habitat for the creatures.

The water vole is a protected species, and in the North East it is estimated that more than 90% of colonies have disappeared since 1990.

The work is part of a three-year regeneration plan for the area.

Conservation officer Andy Lees, of North Pennines AONB, said the aim was to improve the habitat for water voles by removing trees which shade out the bank-side vegetation they feed on.

He said: "The water vole population in the East Allen Valley and nearby area of the North Pennines is one of the most important populations remaining in Northern England."

The project has received cash from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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