Water vole

©Margaret Holland

Water vole

Scientific name: Arvicola amphibius
The water vole is under serious threat from habitat loss and predation by the non-native American mink. Found along our waterways, it is similar-looking to the brown rat, but with a blunt nose, small ears and furry tail.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 14-22cm
Tail: 9.5-14cm
Weight: 150-300g
Average lifespan: 0.5-1.5 years

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

January to December

About

The water vole lives along rivers, streams and ditches, around ponds and lakes, and in marshes, reedbeds and areas of wet moorland. Look out for the signs of water voles, 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 degree, angled-cut at the ends. 'Latrines' of rounded, cigar-shaped droppings may also be spotted. Water voles start to breed in spring, having three to four litters a year of up to five young.

How to identify

The water vole has chestnut-brown fur, a blunt, rounded nose, small ears, and a furry tail. It is much bigger than other vole species. The similar brown rat is larger, with grey-brown fur, a pointed nose, large ears that protrude from its fur, and a long, scaly tail.

Distribution

Widespread, but absent from the Channel Islands, Isles of Scilly, Scottish islands, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Did you know?

The water vole is famously known as 'Ratty' in Kenneth Grahame's classic children's tale, The Wind in the Willows. Despite being sometimes referred to as a 'Water Rat', there is no such thing - there are brown rats, black rats and water voles.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working hard to save the water vole by improving riverbank habitats and being involved in water vole reintroduction schemes. Volunteers are needed to help with everything from monitoring populations to riverbank restoration. So why not have a go at volunteering for your local Trust? You'll make new friends, learn new skills and help wildlife along the way.

Watch

Video by Stephen de Vere

Become a member

Help us bring water voles back

Yes - I'd like to help water voles

Water vole release - John Millard