Identifying Water Voles

Water Vole on BankPhoto: Water Vole sitting on bank edge (Photo by Peter Trimming 'I see no ships' via Wikimedia Commons)

Identifying Water Voles

Water voles are the largest of the three vole species we have in the UK measuring around 12-20cm. Water voles have a glossy, silky, yellowish-brown to dark brown coat of fur, a blunt nose, a rounded body and a long slightly hairy tail. Water voles are a secretive species but they do leave plenty of signs indicating their presence alongside a water body such as:

  • Latrines: areas of ‘uniform cigar shaped’ droppings can be found close to the waters edge.
  • Feeding signs: pieces of vegetation are left in piles around 10cm long and cut at a 45 degree angle, with grooved teeth marks at one end.
  • Burrows: typically water vole burrows have a grazed lawn surrounding the hole and are generally disconnected from each other at the surface.
  • Footprints: Water voles usually leave behind a ‘star shape’ from their fore feet and a short heel on their hind feet.

Water Vole FootprintsPhoto: Water vole footprints imprinted into mud (photo by David Perez [Own work] [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons)

Similar Species

It is a common to mistake water vole for other members of the rodent family such as other voles but in particular the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus). When compared to other voles, the water vole at 12-23cm  is considerably larger than its cousins the Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus) at 9-11cm and Field Vole (Microtus agrestis) at 9-13cm in size.

It is more difficult to distinguish between water voles and the brown rat due to their similar size and cohabitation of the same environments. Whereas the water vole has glossy, silky, yellowish-brown to dark brown coat of fur, a blunt nose, a rounded body and a long slightly hairy tail; the brown rat is brown or black, has a pointed muzzle, larger ears and a scaly tail. Both these species can swim and can take an expert eye to differentiate.

For more information on the difference between water voles and brown rats see the The Wildlife Trusts website.

More Information

Reporting Protected Species

You should record the presence of protected species on a national database. This can done by contacting the local Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO).  Alternatively you can record online at the National Biodiversity Network. You should also alert the appropriate land owner, council and or management body to the presence and location of this species.