Posted 28th Mar 2018
Heading to the riverbank will give you the chance to track down one of our most endangered and much-loved mammals, the water vole
Best known as 'Ratty' in The Wind in the Willows, the water vole was once commonly seen at rivers, streams, ditches, ponds, lakes and other wet places. Numbers dwindled after the mink was introduced and habitat was lost, with water voles now disappearing from many former haunts.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers and Wildlife Trusts, water voles are making a comeback in some areas - keep your eyes peeled for nibbled 'lawn' of grass around the entrance - water voles like to sit and eat in the same place, so piles of nibbles grass and stems could be found by the water's edge, showing off a distinct 45° angled cut at the ends.
'Latrines' of rounded, tic-tac sized and cigar-shaped droppings could also be spotted.
Active between April and September, spring will be the best time to witness them because bankside vegetation is shorter - therefore, the water voles are more easily seen. Be patient and you could see them foraging on the bank or hear the distinctive 'plop' of one landing into the water.
How to do it
As well as keeping your eyes peeled for the animal itself, you could also try looking for the tracks and signs of water voles. Burrows which have grazed 'lawns' at their entrance, piles of nibbled stems and distinctive latrines are sure signs of water voles being in the area. Be sure to take care near the water's edge.
The Magor Marsh nature reserve in Gwent is home to a range of habitats which include damp hay meadows, sedge fen, reedbed, scrub, pollarded willows, wet woodland, a large pond and numerous reens and drainage ditches. After many years of mink control, water voles were released on to the reserve in the summer of 2012 - the project has been successful and water voles are now a common sight across the reserve and will be frequently seen by the public.
Rutland, Rutland Water
Hampshire, Winnall Moors
Derbyshire, Cromford Canal
Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts / image courtesy of © Tom Marshall