THE Cheshire Wildlife Trust has unveiled a new information point on the Shropshire Union Canal, celebrating one of Nantwich’s rarest wildlife residents.

The specially-commissioned oak display, developed in partnership with the Canal & River Trust and the funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), gives visitors an insight into the water vole.

It follows the trust’s discovery that the mammals have a healthy colony on the canal just north of Nantwich Marina.

The water vole – made famous as the mis-named ‘Ratty’ in Wind in the Willows, has seen a dramatic decline in numbers in recent years, but clings on in a few areas across Cheshire including parts of the Shropshire Union Canal and the River Weaver in Nantwich.

It’s thought parts of Britain’s canal network have become a stronghold for the voles due to the consistent water levels and relatively undisturbed nature of the waterways following the end of the industrial revolution.

Elsewhere, water voles have struggled with the loss of soft vegetation along riversides and from predation by the much larger American mink, coupled with increasingly regular extreme weather events causing sudden rises in river levels which can flood out their intricate tunnel networks.

Dr Vicky Nall, Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s water vole officer said: “Once we were sure we had a good population of water voles, we were keen to share it with those who visit the canal and make a home here.

“Many people who live alongside the water voles have also shared their own stories and experiences of ‘Ratty’ with us when they have seen us surveying on the towpath.

“The Wildlife Trust and waterways managers the Canal & River Trust are working toward a more positive future for water voles, and we hope everyone will want to learn a little more about these amazing creatures when they visit the area, and perhaps even see one for themselves.”

Stuart Moodie from the Canal & River Trust added: “Catching a glimpse of a water vole doggy-paddling across the canal is one of the real delights of enjoying our waterways, either from the deck of a boat or from the towpath, and we’re delighted to be working with the Wildlife Trust to understand more about them here in Nantwich.”

The new information point can be found on the canal towpath at the Nantwich Marina picnic area.