Water vole

Why survey water voles?

Water voles (Arvicola amphibious) used to be found in nearly every waterway in England, Scotland and Wales. However, since the middle of the last century, UK water vole numbers have decline by as much as 95%.

Water vole (c) Northeastwildlife.co.uk
Image (c) Northeastwildlife.co.uk

This decline has been due to a combination of factors: pollution; loss and fragmentation of their habitat; and the spread of a key predator - the non-native American mink. This has resulted in one of the most rapid and serious declines of any British mammal.

Some better news, however, is that recent surveys have revealed water vole populations in areas they were not previously known to be present - in particular upland areas, including the Peak District and South Pennines.

In these areas, water voles are found in slow-flowing sections of rivers, tributaries and headstreams, as well as pools, marshy areas and small ditches. These areas are now considered important national refuges for water voles.

Mink are occasionally recorded in the Peak District and South Pennines uplands but are not well established, which may explain why water voles are doing relatively well here.

In addition, landscape scale conservation works being carried out by Moors for the Future Partnership should create large areas of new habitat which are potentially suitable for water voles to colonise.

The re-vegetation of bare peat, and the placement of dams in fast flowing peat erosion gullies and drainage grips slows the flow of water off the hill and reduces the impact of storm events on flow rates - creating a more stable water course with a food supply, banks which can be burrowed in to and a more suitable rate of flow.

Water vole (c) Northeastwildlife.co.uk
Image (c) Northeastwildlife.co.uk

While we now have an improved understanding of the whereabouts of this species in the Peak District and South Pennines uplands, continued monitoring is needed to track changes in population sizes and distribution - including possible expansion into new areas.

In addition, climate change could pose a new threat to water voles. Sudden, heavy storms, which are expected to increase in frequency with climate change, could destroy areas of suitable habitat. Droughts are also expected to become more common which could lead to a reduction in the quality of vegetation as food for water voles.

It is, therefore, important to monitor whether changes in climatic conditions are having an impact on the distribution and abundance of this species.

For more information about water vole ecology, identification and surveying please visit our links and further reading page.

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