Help save the water vole, urges wildlife charity

Once a common sight along our riverbanks and waterways, the water vole is now one of the fastest declining mammals in the UK – so a leading wildlife charity is asking for your help.

WaterWater Vole (Arvicola terrestris)

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is asking volunteers to walk along their local waterway, looking for signs of water voles or even the animal itself, and record the results.

A typical water vole survey site/Credit:PTES

The charity says volunteers don’t have to be animal experts to get involved – after signing up, they will receive a “guide to water vole field signs” to help them tell water voles from other rodents.

The water vole has suffered as a result of habitat loss, river pollution and threat from the American mink.

Habitat loss from an increase in intensive farming and watercourse pollution saw water vole populations crash by nearly 90% between 1989 and 1999. American mink – predators of the vole – then became the biggest threat after their mass release from fur farms in the 1990s. 

Water voles are vulnerable to the mink in particular, as their usual protection mechanism of sheltering in their burrows does not work because the mink can easily follow them in. They also have to contend with the threat of stoats, weasels, otters, foxes, rats, and various birds. 

Water pollution in rivers has had a serious impact on water vole populations/Credit: E. Thomas

Many conservation groups are trying to improve habitats and control mink numbers to protect vole populations. PTES now looks to record how the voles are faring, using the data to find sites with successful conservation methods in place – and those that require extra protection.

Last year, volunteers collected data from 222 sites across England, Scotland and Wales, with 82 sites showing positive signs of water voles.

PTES says it is looking for survey volunteers from all over Britain, but especially needs volunteers in the South West, parts of Wales, southern Scotland and the West Midlands.

Water vole feeding station/Credit: E. Thomas

Emily Thomas, Key Species Monitoring and Data Officer at PTES, said: “Volunteers are crucial to helping us collect robust data about the state of our water voles across the UK.  We use the data gathered to monitor population trends year on year, which in turn help guide our conservation efforts and inform us where action is needed most.”

How to take part

To become a volunteer, no prior experience is required. However, volunteers will be required to learn how to identify water vole field signs such as latrines, and will be asked to survey one pre-selected site of 900 across the UK. Volunteers are to record any signs and sightings of water voles along a 500m riverbank once over the course of a two-month period, and will be provided with a field signs ID guide and clear instructions on how to do your survey and a field signs.

This year’s programme is set to run from 15th April until 15th June. For more information on the PTES’s 2018 National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, visit:


Main image: Water vole/Credit: Ian Schofield