Water Vole

Water Vole - Water Voles
The Water Vole is found throughout the UK although it is less common on higher ground. It is infrequently recorded from parts of northern Scotland and is absent in Ireland.

Water Voles are legally protected in the UK and recent evidence suggests that they have undergone a long term decline. On current trends it is predicted that they may eventually disappear from 94% of their former sites.

The shocking decline in both the range and numbers of the Water Vole is due to a number of factors. The large-scale loss and fragmentation of sensitive waterside habitats due to riverbank modification, drainage and flood defence works has been an important factor as has the pollution of waterways and poisoning by rodenticides. Perhaps the most serious threat facing the Water Vole is predation by the introduced American Mink.

Water Voles are sometimes confused with Brown Rats which often also live near water courses. They are sometimes called "the water rat" which is the origin of the Water Vole’s fame as "Ratty" from Kenneth Grahame's book “The Wind in the Willows”.

Prime Water Vole sites are found along densely vegetated banks of slow flowing rivers, ditches, lakes and marshes where water is present throughout the year.

Water Voles are herbivores and feed on a huge variety of waterside vegetation, consuming 80% of their body weight each day. They excavate extensive burrow systems into the banks of waterways and have sleeping/nest chambers at various levels in the steepest parts of the bank. Burrows usually have underwater entrances to provide a secure route for escape if danger threatens.

Water Voles usually have 3 or 4 litters a year depending on the weather. In mild springs the first of these can be born in March or April although cold conditions can delay breeding until May or even June. There are about 5 young in a litter and these are born below ground in a nest made from suitable vegetation such as grasses and rushes. Young water voles grow quickly and are weaned at 14 days.

On average, Water Voles only live about 5 months in the wild. Their most important predators are Mink and Stoats although Grey Herons, Barn Owls, Brown Rats and Pike are also known to take them.

Date: 17th February 2008

Location: Cromford Canal, Derbyshire

Water Vole

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