Water vole © Margaret Holland
Head to the riverbank to track down one of our most endangered and much-loved mammals, the water vole.
As well as looking for the animal itself, you should also try looking for the tracks and signs of water voles
Better known as ‘Ratty’ in The Wind in the Willows, the water vole was once a common resident of rivers, streams, ditches, ponds, lakes and other wet places. Numbers dwindled after the introduction of mink and loss of habitat, and water voles have now disappeared from many former haunts.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of many volunteers and Wildlife Trusts, water voles are making a comeback in some areas. Look out for signs of their presence such as burrows in the riverbank, often with a nibbled 'lawn' of grass around the entrance. Water voles like to sit and eat in the same place, so piles of nibbled grass and stems may be found by the water's edge, showing a distinctive 45° angled cut at the ends. 'Latrines' of rounded, tic-tac sized and cigar-shaped droppings may also be spotted.
Active from April to September, spring is often the best time of year to see them because bankside vegetation is shorter so water voles are more easily seen. Be patient and you might see them foraging on the bank or hear the distinctive ‘plop’ of one dropping into the water.
How to do it
As well as looking for the animal itself, you should also try looking for the tracks and signs of water voles. Burrows with grazed ‘lawns’ at their entrance, piles of nibbled stems and distinctive latrines are sure signs of water voles in the area. As always, take care near the water’s edge.
If you can’t get to the special places listed below… Find out more about The Wildlife Trusts’ work for water voles at our website and be sure to check out the “quick guide” to water voles. And if you’ve not done so already, read the classic “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame.
The Magor Marsh nature reserve in Gwent is home to a range of habitats including damp hay meadows, sedge fen, reedbed, scrub, pollarded willows, wet woodland, a large pond and the numerous reens and drainage ditches. Following many years of mink control, water voles were released on to the reserve in the summer of 2012. The project has been successful and water voles are now common across the reserve and are frequently seen by the public.
Rutland, Rutland Water
Hampshire, Winnall Moors
Derbyshire, Cromford Canal
Water vole © Tom Marshall