The Wildlife Trusts are working hard to stop the dramatic decline of this national treasure.

The water vole is a much-loved British mammal better known as ‘Ratty’ in the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows. Unfortunately, the future of this charming riverside creature is in peril; the water vole needs urgent help to survive in the UK.

Water voles have suffered huge declines as a result of habitat loss, pollution of waterways, industrialisation of agriculture, housing development and predation by American mink which were brought to the UK for fur farming. Once a regular sight in ditches, streams and rivers across the UK, water voles are now absent from much of the country.

Water voles are a vital part of river ecosystems. Their burrowing, feeding and movements help to create conditions for other animals and plants to thrive - a bit like beavers do, but on a much smaller scale. The Wildlife Trusts and many other organisations are working hard to keep water voles in our rivers and streams and restore them to places where they've been lost.

(LEFT) Habitat loss. Extreme poaching by cattle has destroyed riverbank habitat leading to the loss of a water vole colony (RIGHT) Perfect water vole habitat. High banks for burrowing, plenty of vegetation and grasses along the bank plus some 'fringing' vegetation in the river channel itself.



How you can help water voles

Farmers and landowners

Manage riverbank habitat - look after riverbank habitats for water voles, e.g. by providing generous strips of uncut vegetation along river banks to provide shelter and feeding, opening up sections of the bank to the sun to prevent overshading, and creating soft edges to river banks for water voles to create burrows in. 

Read more on managing habitat for water voles


Volunteer - Find out about volunteering opportunities as a water vole surveyor with your local Wildlife Trust. Or take part in the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme run by PTES!

Donate - Donate to charities helping to protect and restore water voles. Check your Wildlife Trust's website for local water vole appeals.

Tread carefully - Around rivers and streams people should follow the Countryside Code and avoid disturbing water voles.

Conserve water - Water voles need water. By minimising your use of water and avoiding wasting water you can help to keep Ratty's natural habitats wet and water-vole friendly. 

Conservation charities

Enlarge and expand conservation projects to protect and enhance water vole populations at a landscapescale, to help water vole populations recover and re-occupy their former range and distribution.

Monitor water voles - Continue to monitor water vole populations and invest further in volunteers to help survey. The network of expert volunteer recorders is critical to water vole conservation.Use alert maps to inform the design and implementation of conservation programmes

Share learnings from water vole reintroduction projects - and make this information available to conservation practitioners, in order to share experiences, successes and best practice.

Use River Catchment Partnerships to help water voles - Catchment Partnerships play a key role as they hold the key to reaching all riparian owners at a catchment scale to maintain conservation efforts at a meaningful level.

Read our report for full recommendations


Revise the UK strategy for water vole conservation - Revise the UK strategy for water vole conservation as the UK Biodiversity Action Plan has failed to achieve its national targets.

Support landscape-scale water vole conservation programmes - including
through ensuring that future land management policy and public payments for farmers and land managers help to restore water voles

Read our report for full recommendations

Read our press release "New report points to 30% decline in water vole distribution" February 2018 here.

Watch our short guide to looking after water vole habitats




Watch a 4 minue guide to water voles

Video by Stephen de Vere

Links and further information

The Water Vole Conservation Handbook by Rob Strachan, Tom Moorhouse and Merryl Gelling. In-depth book on water vole conservation.

Derek Gow Consultancy website - lots of useful information on water vole ecology, folklore, management and more - website by water vole conservationist Jo Cartmell with lots of information on water voles and how to look after them.

Restoring Ratty - information on a large-scale water vole reintroduction scheme in Northumberland, involving Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Forestry Commission, Tyne Rivers Truust and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.