Water Voles (Arvicola amphibius) are native to the UK and have been protected since 1981 by the Wildlife and Countryside act.
There has been a massive decline in Water Vole numbers since 1900 and by 1990 we had lost 90% of our water voles. In some counties where there has been recovery programmes some increases have been seen, but numbers are still struggling and spotting a water vole can be quite difficult.
The Water vole is a mammal and the largest vole in Britain. They are sometimes mistaken for Brown rats and in the book Wind in the Willows, Ratty was actually a Water Vole. Water voles have a life span of 1.5 years but are often predated long before that. They are roughly 20cm long, their tail can be another 11cm.
Water Voles live in holes which tend to be 2-3cm off the water and can be found along riversides and shallow streams. They prefer water ways with steep sides and plenty of vegetation. Bare patches, where feeding has taken place, will show that Water voles have been present recently.
Another sign of Water Voles along the river bank will be droppings the size and shape of a Tic-Tac. Water voles leave dropping to mark their territories.
Recently I was kindly invited to see some Water Voles in Gloucestershire.
It was good to have someone with local knowledge to point out where to look and the common behaviour of the water voles.
Just as the group of us had finished talking about where to look and that these particular water voles were used to people and dogs passing by, there was a small plop and right in front of us was a Water Vole hurrying along the side of the bank. I got my camera ready and started taking photos as it was a great opportunity to get some amazing close up shots. Unfortunately the Water vole climbed up in to the foliage and we lost site of it.
Where the water vole had disappeared the foliage suddenly started moving differently, rather than swaying in the wind like the surrounding grass and nettles, the Celandine flowers were being tugged away and vanishing before our eyes. We could just make out a little brown face amongst the foliage.
While I was taking photos, my mum filmed.
Thanks to Iain Green for hosting the day, and to Jo Cartmell for all the water vole expertise. It was a great experience and lovely to see Water Voles so close up in the wild.