Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Sunday, 7 June 2009 10:51 UK

Hopes for return of water voles

Water vole
Numbers of water voles have dwindled by 90% over the past 20 years

One of the North Pennines' most vulnerable creatures could be making a comeback after it was thought to have virtually disappeared.

More than 90% of water vole colonies have disappeared from the north-east of England since 1990.

But conservationists say there are signs the creature is returning to the West Allen area of Northumberland.

Residents have also reported increased sighting of water voles, which are a protected species.

Andy Lees, conservation officer with the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership, said: "On a recent survey of the Coalcleugh area of West Allen I discovered all the classic signs of water vole activity and all in a location where previous surveys had drawn a blank.

"Since the discovery we've also had confirmation from a Coalcleugh resident who regularly sees water voles at the bottom of his garden.

"It's all looking very positive, and we're now hoping to encourage others to look out for signs of water voles and report what they find."

Kevin O'Hara, conservation officer with Northumberland Wildlife Trust, one of the organisations working with the AONB Partnership on water vole recovery, said: "This is very, very exciting news as we look to safeguard and expand the present populations within the North Pennines."

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