A RARE mammal has returned to a nature reserve after more than 20 years.

Sightings of water voles have been reported at Daws Hall, in Lamarsh, for the first time in two decades.

They are protected in the UK and are considered endangered following a loss of habitat in the 20th century.

Native mammals like the water vole play an important part in the ecosystems of waterways and their return is regarded as a good sign.

Since 2004, Daws Hall has worked alongside Essex Wildlife Trust to protect habitats and check for signs of the creatures returning.

Darren Tansley, the Essex Wildlife Trust officer at the head of the countywide programme to protect the species, said it was “time to break out the Champagne” and the news had made all the years of effort worth it.

Daws Hall Nature Reserve has two upcoming open days on Sundays October 31 and November 7 for visitors to see the gardens’ famous autumn colours as the leaves begin to change and fall.

Visitors may also have a chance to catch a glimpse of the returning voles.

They look much like a brown rat, but with a much blunter face, small ears and a furry tail.

The gardens are open from noon to 4pm. Admission is £7 for adults, £2 for children and under-fives enter for free.