The water vole will receive extra protection, Joan Ruddock, Minister for Biodiversity today announced.
The water vole together with the angel shark, roman snail, spiny seahorse, and short-snouted seahorse will gain protection against being killed, injured, or taken from the wild from 6 April. They will join the list of wildlife species such as the otter and grass snake that already enjoy protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
In addition, the possession or selling of the water vole, short-snouted seahorse, spiny seahorse and roman snail will become an offence. It will also become an offence to damage or obstruct the short-snouted and spiny seahorses' place of shelter or disturb them in their place of shelter.
Visiting the WWT London Wetlands Centre to see at first hand a project to protect water voles, Joan Ruddock said:
"It is in all our interests that England's valuable wildlife is protected, and a lot of work has been done to ensure that the list of species being protected is comprehensive.
"As I have seen today, organisations such as the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust are committed to conserving animals such as the water vole. The additional protection we are providing for these creatures will ensure a more secure future for their species."
Alastair Driver, National Conservation Manager for the Environment Agency and Chair of the UK Water Vole Species Action Plan Group welcomed the announcement:
"We welcome this announcement which is great news for water vole conservation. It not only serves to minimise deliberate persecution and accidental poisoning, but also clarifies the law for planners and developers.
"Water vole populations have declined by 90% since 1990 and this added protection will make a real difference to the work being done to conserve this charismatic species"
Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive for The Wildlife Trusts, said:
"We're absolutely delighted water voles have finally been given this life line. Water voles have been lost from many parts of the UK, including significant areas such as Cornwall, but this excellent news will undoubtedly help our efforts to bring the water vole back from the brink.
"Full legal protection should ensure remaining water vole populations are not compromised during development works and that incidents of trapping and persecution do not go unpunished. Over the last 10 years, The Wildlife Trusts have worked closely with the Environment Agency, Natural England, water companies and others to ensure the water vole remains a feature of our rivers, streams, canals and other watercourses."
The Joint Nature Conservation Committee has a statutory responsibility to review the species listed for protection under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and to advise the English, Scottish and Welsh administrations. They will consider further species for addition later this year.
Species conservation is a devolved issue. Defra will continue work with the Welsh Assembly Government and Scottish Government to ensure a consistent approach.
Police Forces are the primary enforcement agency for offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The maximum penalty for not complying with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is a £5000 fine and/or six months imprisonment.
In certain cases such as scientific research, licences may be granted by Natural England to permit activities outlawed by the act.
Further information on schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act can be found on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website