This week has seen the start of the Autumn section of the Water Vole Displacement Project being undertaken by WildCRU at the University of Oxford. Water Voles are protected in the UK and one of our BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) mammal species. Vegetation clearance is one of the main techniques used by consultants in water vole mitigation in a bid to encourage water voles to move out of short (up to 50m) sections of water way, but as yet there is no data to back up this practise as being effective for displacement. This project simply aims to radio track voles before and after strimming to remove vegetation at a variety of sites in Oxfordshire. The study has already been completed once in Spring 2016, and has started again to document results in the Autumn. The Mammal Society has chosen to support this vital project by providing man power in the form of us – Charlotte Marshall (information officer at The Mammal Society) and Emily Haddy (recent National Trust volunteer). We have promised to record our experiences in a blog, so here goes, Week 1!
Our week started by meeting the rest of the team at WildCRU. Merryl Gelling and Andrew Harrington conducted the study this Spring and so know a lot about what to expect. After a quick cuppa, introductions and a lot of “It’ll all seem clearer when we’re out there” we headed out to our first site. We’ve no doubt that the glorious British summer weather being seen in Oxfordshire helped, but it looked like a water vole paradise to us! Full of enthusiasm, we set about marking out 2 sub sites to be trapped and then laying out water vole traps at regular intervals. Each trap is filled with hay and a large helping of apples and carrots in order to seem as tempting as possible to potential voles.
Tuesday morning brought our first encounters with our study species. While Charlotte has worked briefly with water voles before, for Emily this was her first close-up encounter. Nine voles in total had succumbed to temptation and spent the night in a warm cocoon of hay, stuffing themselves with apple. Each vole is carefully ushered into a pringles tube and anaesthetised by Harry, before being PIT tagged and, if fully grown, radio collared. We then had the fun job of releasing voles back to the river. Five voles received radio collars, with a further four juveniles simply receiving a PIT tag.
The hot weather has meant that trapping voles during the day would be detrimental to animal welfare, so after radio collaring during the early morning, all traps were pinned open for the day. The late afternoon saw Emily and Harry head back out to re-bait and open all traps to tempt more voles in for the following morning.
This same routine continued throughout the week, with three more voles being radio collared to bring our total for one sub-site up to eight. We have recaptured several of the tagged and collared voles from the first batch, including one greedy juvenile whose PIT tag has appeared every day!
Between collaring and trapping sessions at our first site, we have visited and marked out two more sites and sub sites ready to be trapped. One of these sites is stunning, complete with friendly calves, but the other is a wall of vegetation – loved by water voles but much less attractive to ecologists. We’ll see how that goes! We have also started radio tracking our collared voles to build up an idea of their movements and home ranges prior to strimming.
Our final day this week has been incredibly wet, with both of us questioning our sanity as we trudge through wet grass tracking our voles. Nevertheless, we still think field work is one of the best jobs even on the wettest of days! The project has got off to a great start and we can’t wait to get back out there next week.
For more project updates, visit our Facebook and Twitter, or visit our Appeal page for more information about the project and to donate. This project still requires funding and any support is hugely appreciated. And for more cute pictures of water voles on the upper Thames, visit Andrew Harrington’s website .