Ratty's Refuge At Chelsea Flower Show

Posted on: 24 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Gardeners are urged to help save Ratty, as a Wind in the Willows Chelsea garden plans to highlight the plight of the water vole.

Inspiring gardeners to help save the water vole, one of the UK's most endangered mammals, is the theme of a new garden at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show from 20th to 24th May 2008.

River & Rowing Museum's 'Ratty's Refuge' also celebrates the 100th birthday of Kenneth Grahame's classic book The Wind in the Willows, in which Ratty, a water vole, is the star.

Garden sponsor, The River & Rowing Museum - which has a gallery dedicated to river ecology and houses the UK's only The Wind in the Willows exhibition - hopes the garden will inspire and motivate waterside gardeners and those within 1km of a watercourse, to get involved in helping to secure Ratty's survival.

Related Links

Welcome Water Voles To Your Garden

The water vole is Britain's fastest declining mammal. 1990 levels recorded a national water vole population of just over seven million across the UK. By 1998 numbers had crashed to less than 1 million, a decline of almost 90 per cent in just seven years. Predation by American Mink and poor watercourse management have accelerated its decline.

The Government has recognised its plight and from 6th April 2008 the water vole will be given extra protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Plan of River & Rowing Museum Ratty’s RefugeGardeners are uniquely placed to help halt the water vole's decline, and can do so with style. The River & Rowing Museum's Ratty's Refuge garden demonstrates how native planting can create a green refuge for water voles and other wildlife as well as creating a beautiful garden. The garden's ideas and planting scheme are based upon a small urban garden, but can be adopted by a garden of any size.

Young water voles usually disperse and settle somewhere between 500m and 1km from the site where they were born, travelling along watercourses until they find empty, suitable habitat in which they make their home.

Gardens beside watercourses that have been planted and landscaped to benefit water voles can be hugely valuable in helping water vole populations to grow. The effect is considerably increased if gardeners work together to create a series of suitable habitats as this helps to join up fragmented water courses and bring populations of water voles together.

The water vole captured the public's imagination 100 years ago through the character 'Ratty' in Kenneth Grahame's classic book The Wind in the Willows, which celebrates its publication Centenary this year. The mild mannered, water loving Ratty is still hugely popular and is the character to whom the famous phrase, "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats," is attributed. The Wind in the Willows' 100th birthday provides a perfect opportunity to start inspiring gardeners to help halt Ratty's decline.

Unveiled at Chelsea, River & Rowing Museum's Ratty's Refuge will be a small contemporary urban garden measuring 5 x 5 metres using naturalistic planting to create a green refuge for people and wildlife. Lush planting contrasts with the geometric simplicity of environmentally-friendly Maine decking, made of recycled wood flour and plastic film material.

The planting is a mixture of native species from postcode CB3 in Cambourne, Cambridgeshire, where the garden was originally designed, together with garden cultivars predominantly green with yellow, together with blue and white in colour.

The water vole, the largest vole in Britain, is a herbivore. It eats a wide variety of native plants, seeds and berries and is particularly partial to sedges and reeds. The garden's planting of native willows and moisture-loving plants provide the water vole with food and habitat, for example Reed Canary Grass Phalaris arundinacea and Yellow Flag Iris Iris pseudocorus.

The garden's small pond provides the visiting water vole with a supplementary habitat away from the main water source. The earth bank is at a 450 profile into which the water vole can burrow and nest.

A glass-mounted picture of a water vole, taken by award-winning wildlife photographer Andrew Parkinson, provides the garden's focal point and pays reference to the garden's principle theme. The native plants needed to create the water vole habitat in River & Rowing Museum's Ratty's Refuge are being supplied by British Wildflower Plants.

River & Rowing Museum's Ratty's Refuge was designed by Capel Manor College graduates Angela Potter and Ann Robinson of English Eden, in consultation with The Wildlife Trusts.

Following the Chelsea Flower Show, Ratty's Refuge will be translated to the River & Rowing Museum's riverside location at Henley-on-Thames. It will complement the Museum's permanent exhibition on The Wind in the Willows and the Thames Gallery, which explores river ecology and wildlife, all subjects close to Ratty's heart. The Museum also has galleries dedicated to the sport of rowing and the town of Henley-on-Thames.

"This garden shows how it is possible to create a beautiful wildlife haven within a small urban space," says Sally Howe, from Water in the South East, a partnership of water companies in the South East of England that is also supporting the project.

"With the growing trend of hard landscaping front gardens to create parking spaces, we are pleased to be able to promote a sustainable approach to gardening which enhances the natural environment and encourages more green space."

Web Links

The Garden's website - www.rattysrefuge.co.uk - provides planting ideas and tips for water vole-friendly gardens as well as blogs and pictures charting the progress of River & Rowing Museum's Ratty's Refuge at Chelsea.

The River & Rowing Museum: www.rrm.co.uk

English Eden: www.english-eden.co.uk

The Wildlife Trusts: www.wildlifetrusts.org

British Wild Flower Plants: www.wildflowers.co.uk

Water in the South East: www.waterinthesoutheast.com

Water vole photo © Andrew Parkinson: www.andrewparkinson.com

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