Water voles (Arvicola amphibious) live in and amongst watercourses throughout the United Kingdom, they can be found most commonly along rivers, streams, and ditches, but have also been found in and around ponds, lakes and even canals. Water voles prefer habitats with ‘soft banks’ where they can dig burrows and have plenty of marginal vegetation for food and protection from predatory birds. Water voles are generally herbivores choosing to eat grasses and rushes but are indeed able to eat 227 species of plant in Britain. Unfortunately this species is becoming a rarer sight throughout the UK.
Although listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List due to higher populations within Europe (Hyperlink), within the UK the species is listed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Species (UKBAP) and is listed on Schedule 5 on the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This means that it is an “illegal offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild animal listed on Schedule 5 and prohibits interference with places used for shelter or protection, or intentionally disturbing animals occupying such places” unless under specified circumstances. The maximum fine on conviction of offences is currently £5,000.
Once one of our most common mammals, water voles have become the fastest declining mammal species in the UK. The species has been lost from 90% of sites where it had once existed over the past 100 years. One of the main reasons for this decline comes from the loss of suitable habitat due to hard engineering processes such as culverting, bank stabilisation and dredging, as well as overgrazing, poor grass cutting regimes and over shading from scrub, trees and invasive plants. The other major factor leading to water vole decline is due to the escape and release of the american mink (mustela viso) into the wild where it preys upon the water vole.
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.
Photo: Water Vole (photo by Peter Trimming)