Week 5 of this project was the big week: strimming week! The main aim of this project is to determine how water voles respond to the removal of bank-side riparian vegetation. Having worked hard over the previous 4 weeks to trap, collar and then determine the home ranges of over forty water voles across five experimental and two control sites, we were now at the vegetation removal stage.
As always with science, it did not quite go to plan. No-one had quite anticipated just how much
vegetation there is along Oxfordshire river banks at this time of year, and how difficult it is to remove it successfully without tumbling in yourself, brushcutter and all. And certainly no-one could have anticipated that we would also have to do it in a heatwave. Luckily, our contractor Ed, generously donated by Ecosulis for the purposes of this project, was undeterred.
Each bank was brushcut, strimmed and then the cuttings raked away, leaving as little as possible to act as shelter or nourishment for voles. We even completed vegetation removal from in the water in particularly steep-banked areas to make sure that burrow entrances were fully exposed and latrines removed, as per advice in the Water Vole Mitigation Handbook. Our first attempt to tow a canoe along the river, filled with one fieldworker armed with a machete and a pair of gardening gloves, was not particularly successful. We therefore resorted to good old chest waders, which worked brilliantly. A the end of the week, all five of our experimental sites had a barren-looking 50m section of bank either side of the river.
We tried to make sure that one of us was available throughout the period to track the voles that we knew were present in the strimming area. As expected, some sat tight in their burrows, while others moved over into unstrimmed areas within their territory, or even into neighbouring territories to avoid the disruption.
Next week will be the most vital week for data collection, as we will again gather home range data post vegetation removal. We look forward to seeing whether our voles make any changes to their territories, and determining whether vegetation removal is an effective way to displace water voles.
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. And for more cute pictures of water voles, visit Andrew Harrington’s website http://u0000vs933onpn8m.photoshelter.com/gallery/The-dark-water/G0000KcrP4sU1uGs/