Water voles (Arvicola amphibius) are one of our most rapidly declining species and are now officially classified as Endangered by our recently published IUCN Red List.
The reduction in the number of water voles is mostly attributed to habitat degradation beginning in the 1940s and 1950s, which has been exacerbated by predation from American mink (Neovison vison). American mink are non-native to the UK having escaped from fur farms in the 1920s, therefore water voles lack effective predator defences. You can find out more about non-native species in the UK, such as the American mink, at our 2018 Autumn Symposium which takes place in London on 9 and 10 November.
Fortunately, there are dedicated researchers and volunteers helping to restore water vole populations across the UK. One such project is Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s ‘Restoring Ratty’ project, which is monitoring mink and reintroducing water voles to Kielder Water Forest Park. You can read more about this project on the NWT’s web page: https://www.nwt.org.uk/what-we-do/projects/restoring-ratty
Another such project has recently taken place in East Devon. James Chubb, Countryside Team Leader at East Devon District Council has written a blog about it. Click here to read it.
Water voles inhabit burrows along the edges of water courses, usually no more than two metres from the water’s edge. Autumn is a good time to spot water voles as their populations are at their highest. Water voles are active in the day so you might be lucky enough to see one, or hear their characteristic ‘plop’ as they dive into the water startled.If they are around, you should also be able to see their feeding signs (piles of leaves cut clean at a 45º angle) and latrines, which are piles of poo pellets (see photo right and below), often dark green in colouration, used to mark territories between March-October.
Although they don’t hibernate over the winter, water voles become much less active, so now is the time to go looking for them! Please look out on rivers, canals and ponds near you and tell us what you find (knowing that water voles are NOT there is vital information). If you’re going on a walk or a cycle ride download the Mammal Mapper app or for other ways to record signs and sightings of waters voles go to our record submissions webpage.
To find out more about water voles click here.
Download a water vole field sign factsheet here.