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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A huge increase in sightings of the water vole in Britain could be good news for the animal immortalized as Ratty in Kenneth Grahame's classic book "The Wind in the Willows."
The water vole is among nearly 300 different species spotted making their homes by the country's canals and rivers, according to a survey by British Waterways.
Britain's fastest-declining mammal, the water vole has been decimated by the introduction into the wild of American mink that have either been released or escaped from fur farms.
Rare butterflies, otters, a porpoise and even an alligator snapping turtle were among the less common of the 42,500 sightings recorded, while mallards, Canada geese and swans were the most commonly seen, British Waterways said on its website.
It was a good year for sightings of the survey's focus species, the bumblebee, as a warm start to summer meant that a healthy number were spotted taking advantage of waterside wild flowers. There were also numerous sightings of kingfisher birds, an indicator of good water quality and a healthy ecosystem.
"Canals and rivers are ideal wildlife corridors that support a vast array of wildlife, including bats, newts and otters," said British Waterways ecology manager Mark Robinson.
"It is particularly encouraging to note the number of water voles spotted this year.
Robinson also urged Britons to get out, get closer to nature and do their bit to preserve it by heading to the nearest inland waterway to help record the animals, bugs and birds that bring the rivers and canals to life.
"Each record helps us to monitor, protect and preserve the amazing biodiversity found on our waterways," he said.
The survey recorded that 89 water voles were spotted, twice as many as in 2008, with the most being seen on the Kennet & Avon Canal in southern England.
It recorded sightings of 127 different species of birds, including woodpeckers, reed warblers, little owls and almost 200 kingfishers.
The number of frogs seen leapt three times from 2008, with three-quarters of them spotted in Scotland, while 27 different species of butterflies were seen, including brimstones, small blues and speckled woods.
The most unusual of the 42,500 sightings was a porpoise, a close relation of the dolphin, seen in the River Ouse near Selby in Yorkshire and a large alligator snapping turtle, a non-native species from North America that officials say had probably been released into the wild from a private collection.
Reporting by Paul Casciato; Editing by Steve Addison