Water voles are to be reintroduced to the River Wandle more than 40 years after they disappeared from its banks.

The London Water Vole Project has been given several thousand pounds by the Environment Agency to make the river's banks more hospitable for the voles.

It hopes to be able to start three new colonies along the river within the next two years.

Water Vole Project officer Chris Strachan said: "The river has improved in the last few years and there are some very good quality banks which the voles could live in, but they need a bit more work.

"Whatever efforts we can make to re-establish water voles within London is going to conserve them for future generations to enjoy."

Local wildlife expert Tony Drakeford said: "This is great news. Although in the Wind in the Willows the water vole was called Ratty, the vole isn't a rat at all. It feeds on water shoots and tender vegetation so it doesn't cause the problems that rats do.

"It is a very gentle creature and one which is part of our natural heritage so we need to see them back again. Let's hope this project is successful."

The last vole in the Wandle was spotted in 1962, but the wooden cladding installed along the river in the 1970s to help protect the banks is blamed for finally driving the voles out.

Voles need soft river banks in which to burrow and make their homes, and the wood stopped them from doing this.

The cladding also stopped their diet of grass growing along the banks, which also helped drive them out.

The project has earmarked three sites to create a more natural habitat for the voles to flourish in.

These are in the National Trust's grounds at Morden Hall Park and Watermeads in Morden and the London Wildlife Trust's Spencer Road Wetlands in Beddington.

Life for water wildlife in south west London is looking brighter. Water voles have already been successfully reintroduced at the Wetlands Centre in Barnes.

And last week, brown trout were reintroduced into the Wandle at Wandsworth by children from local schools.

The project's grant is part of £400,000 given to the Environment Agency from Defra, which will be spent on improving some of England's most vulnerable wildlife and habitats.