This week we have been completing the last of the trapping and radio collaring of voles at one experimental site and both control sites. Much to the delight of our water proofs, none of the sites contain barbed wire. We have successfully trapped relatively large numbers of voles at all sites, which is very encouraging. Merryl Gelling, project leader from WildCRU, was involved in water vole reintroductions to this area previously and is especially pleased that this UK protected species is flourishing in Oxfordshire.
Interestingly, trapping at our last experimental site mostly yielded male voles. Water voles are territorial and while we had grown used to trapping females and their young in adjacent traps at other sites, it was nice to see what appeared to be a bachelor pad of males holding adjacent territories. We liked to think that they were giving females plenty of room to rearrange the furniture after the young have dispersed, a similar situation to many human houses at the moment with the departure of students back to school or university!
In addition to water voles, we have had some other interesting catches in our traps. Emily has experienced the dilemmas of distinguishing bank voles from field voles (for those who don’t know, a field vole, or short tailed vole, has a tail roughly a third of the length of its body, while a bank vole’s tail is about half the length of the body, more info here). We have also had several rats, easily identified from a distance by their frenetic moving around the trap, whereas a water vole will sit quietly. Lastly, at our final site we discovered a stoat, you can just glimpse the black tip to his tail in this video of his release. Great filming Merryl!
Water voles at all sites have been consistently radio tracked in order to build an idea of home ranges, and seem mostly to stay within a defined territory, with the odd one who wanders further afield. This has prepared us thoroughly for the next stage of the project, the vegetation removal, which is taking place next week. After that, we will be getting to the heart of the matter: are voles displaced by 50m of vegetation removal?
Charlotte and Emily
For more information on this project or to donate to this work, visit our Appeal page or the WildCRU website. You can also keep up to date with this project on Facebook and Twitter (#trackingwatervoles). And for more cute pictures of water voles, visit Andrew Harrington’s website.