THE humble water vole’s population is set to grow after money was pledged to improve its habitat.

Conservation charity the Woodland Trust has received an £8,000 grant from Essex Environmental Trust to help further expand the rodent’s population at Elmstead Market wood.

The cash will be added to funds provided by the Woodland Trust, making a total of more than £12,500 to undertake reinstating habitats and creating an area of wood pasture.

Specific works include clearing overgrown vegetation, planting reeds, installing sluice gates and putting up fences to control grazing and protect woodland creation areas.

Water voles are one of the UK’s fastest declining mammals, placed in peril by the predatory American mink and loss of habitat.

Figures by Essex Wildlife Trust show that between 1997 and 2006, the county’s water vole population plummeted by 90 per cent.

It is hoped further habitat creation will lead to increased numbers.

Tony Chadwick, Woodland Trust site manager, said: “Three years ago the water vole made a tentative return to Elmstead Market after a five-year absence. It’s great to the think that now we can do even more to make the wood feel more like their home.

“In addition, the opportunity to create a wood pasture habitat with public access will help improve Elmstead Market for other species and local people.”