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Ratty lives to tell the Tale

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Engineers who devised an environmentally sensitive pipe-laying scheme to avoid disturbing water voles on a Devon river have been awarded a Golden Green Apple Award by the Green Organisation.

The team from May Gurney, working for South West Water, used a special drill to enable them to lay the pipe under the River Tale 25 metres away from the voles' home.

With careful planning and help from ecologists, May Gurney ensured the work did not disturb the recently re-introduced voles.

Mark Priest, Ian Fawcus and Mark Burt of May Gurney, and James Field, of South West Water were presented with the award at a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament on 12 November. They discovered on the day that they had won a gold award - the top accolade - in their category.

Les Metcalfe, from South West Water, said: "We're proud to be associated with this project which has shown the kind of care for wildlife and the environment that we expect, whilst still delivering the project for us and our customers."

May Gurney was working on a contract for South West Water to rehabilitate over 81km of water mains in the Ottery St Mary area of East Devon to improve tap water quality when they discovered the sensitivity of the site.

After nearly a year of planning, an initial hole was drilled with a small tracked drilling machine. This initial hole was directed to pass approximately 3metres  below the stream bed and land in the correct location in the reception pit. Once the initial hole had been drilled a larger reamer was then drawn back through to create the full-size hole. The new main was then installed through this full-sized hole.

The operation avoided the need for any temporary works in the river that would have meant disturbance for the voles - and other wildlife at the site, including otters - and loss of habitat.

Although once a common sight on our waterways, water voles have become increasingly rare and they were declared extinct in Devon in 2000. It was estimated that the national population had declined from around 1,000,000 to about 200,000 over 10 years.

Since their reintroduction in 2004, the voles are now established in the Tale, and it is hoped they will start to spread out south and west, colonising a wider area.

The Green Apple Environment Awards were launched in 1994 by The Green Organisation and have become well established as one of the most popular environmental campaigns in the world. The awards are now in their 18th year and well established as one of the major environmental recognition schemes, both in the UK and internationally.

Published: 23 November 2012

Notes for editors

1. May Gurney won in the conservation and wildlife category of the Commerce and Industry section.
2. The team were working as a member of South West Water's H5O engineering delivery alliance

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