Water Voles

There are many examples of new species being introduced into countries with results that horribly demonstrate the law of unintended consequences, cane toads in Australia being a good example. Britain is also an island and so it too has a particularly delicate eco-system. The list of British invasive species is quite a long one and includes some well known serial offenders such as the grey squirrel and the signal crayfish. A relatively new arrival is the American mink, a truly fearsome carnivore with no indigenous predators. It causes considerable damage to a number of bird species and, in particular, to the water vole.

Largely due to this, and also to more general habitat loss, the water vole is now Britain’s fastest declining mammal and has vanished from many parts of the country where it was once common. By some estimates, the population is now only five per cent of its level in the 1960s: an alarming fall by any standard. Concerted attempts are now being  made both to eradicate mink and to re-introduce water voles and so help restore some balance to the local environments. Recently, water voles have been sighted locally on the River Lambourn in Great Shefford and the River Kennet in Marlborough.

How to Identify Water Voles

Water voles are often confused with rats. One origin of the confusion dates back to 1908 when Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows was published. Ratty was actually a water vole (but, one has to admit, Ratty is a better name than Voley). The term ‘water rat’ is often used to describe water voles, so giving them an unwanted association with one of our more unloved mammal species, which at first glance they closely resemble. There are three easy ways to distinguish a vole from a rat: the vole has flat ears against the head, rather than protruding ones; chestnut brown, rather than dark brown, fur; and a furry tale rather than a bald one. When swimming, these distinctions can obviously be harder to spot.  Also, vole’s droppings are tic-tac shaped (rounded at both ends) whereas those of a rat are pointed at one end. See the video above (kindly provided by Stephen de Vere) for best illustration of the difference between the two species.

How to Help Water Voles

If you live on a river please leave vegetation on the bank as insects, water bird and voles need the habitat. If your lawn goes right to the water’s edge these creatures have nowhere to feed or hide. Please also remember that any rat poison used in your garden will kill voles so make sure it is properly contained as positioned as far from the river as possible.

If you do positively sight a water vole please contact the People’s Trust for Endangered Species

For more information about local water voles please visit Berks, Bucks, Oxon Wildlife Trust or Action for River Kennet

Thanks to Wildlife Through the Garden Gate by Stephen de Vere for the video and Andrew Dore for the water vole photograph on this page.



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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale