A WORLD expert on water voles has attacked the wanton destruction of their habitat in Wilmslow which he described as now looking more akin to 'a lifeless desert'.

Derek Gow, who is an acknowledged expert not just on voles but is also helping with the national initiative to reintroduce of beavers back into Scotland, was invited to come to Lindow Moss at the invitation of Saltersley Common Preservation Society.

Mr Gow returned to see how his report produced in 2010 on the protected species of water voles had been acted upon and also concerns raised by a recent survey of the endangered mammal.

Knutsford Guardian: Derek Gow at Lindow Common

He was taken across the common last Thursday, by the preservation society chairman Tony Evans, who raised concerns, which he passed on to Mr Gow, after a survey of the vole habitat was carried out in September by Cheshire Wildlife Trust, whose study concluded that the 'general wildlife value of this rare raised bog remnant has been largely destroyed by ongoing industrial peat mining'.

After last week's inspection Mr Gow said: "When we did the original survey in 2010 there was not as much vegetation but there were a handful of animals. Autumn is a peak time when there should be lots of animals about but there was nothing. The voles need up to a metre of water and most of the channels are far too shallow because the most of the water has drained off the site.

"It's indicative of the fact that that there's a population of voles that is functionally extinct.

Knutsford Guardian: Wasteland - Derk Gow surveys vole habitat

"In terms of how important they are in terms of the wetland is that they provide prey for wildlife which include foxes and stoats but the level of activity among the voles is frighteningly slight.

"They are virtually extinct because there is nothing stable about this environment. Voles are a dynamic little animal but if you push them into a corner and the water dries out they are going to be killed by predators far more easily. The population in this part of Cheshire is pathetic."

He explained: "It's really terrible and very sad that here we have a species that has declined but the situation far from getting better has got far worse."

Knutsford Guardian: Derek Gow photographed next to standing rainwater

As reported in the Guardian in September, when peat extraction firm Croghan Peat was given planning permission by Cheshire County Council in the 1990s, a total of 51 conditions were imposed on it to provide among other demands a sluice gate and a settlement pond, neither of which was installed.

Cheshire East Council took over responsibility from the old county council in 2009 to ensure compliance.

A subsequent complaint by the preservation society in 2012 to the ombudsman said no unequivocal link could be found at that time but insisted that: "Failure to require compliance with the conditions of the planning permission (or decide they were not expedient to enforce) is maladministration and the council should take immediate steps to ensure this does not persist."

Knutsford Guardian: Derek Gow

Mr Gow added: "My experience of local councils has on the whole been very positive. However, I have never seen anywhere that has been so comprehensively trashed over time.

"What we have here are people wringing their hands and saying it's not our problem, but if nobody takes responsibility, you end up with a lifeless desert with absolutely nothing."

A Cheshire East spokesman told the Guardian last month that it would work with all parties to tackle the problems on the Common.

As we went to press, we were awaiting a response from Cheshire East as to what efforts had been actioned since then.