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Conservation of the Water Vole-u.k.

Updated on August 3, 2015

A Grandfathers' Lesson

 I remember as budding nature lover,my grandfather teaching me the ways of the countryside. One of the first lessons I remember vividly was my grandfathers' passionate lesson on how to distinguish the water vole from the detested brown rat. I was taught that the harmless vegetarian water vole was being mercilessly persecuted because it had the misfortune to have a superficial resemblance to the brown rat.

Close observation, he said, would reveal that although they are similar in size there a fundamental differences between the two species. The water vole has a chocolate brown, silky fur. they posses an endearing chubby face most unlike the sharp features and longer snout of the brown rat. Unlike the rats' prominent ears, the ears of the water vole are characteristically small, barely emerging above the fur.

Both creatures often share the same riparian habitats. They live along the banks of canals rivers and lakes.This fact gave rise to the water voles' country title of water rat, which is not only incorrect but helped lead to the creatures persecution. both creatures can swim well; however, the tendency of the water vole is to submerge after it has "plopped" into the water, while the brown rat tends to swim on the surface.

I have observed the water vole sitting upright on the bank feeding on the vegetation. It is another characteristic of the creature, the way it can hold its food and turn food around in its paws, as it is eating, in a similar manner to that of the squirrel . I have located the whereabouts of water voles by noting that the stalks of reed and tall grasses have been bitten off close to the base, as I have walked the banks, a sure sign that that water voles reside nearby.

Water Voles Fighting ,courtesy of WildPlaces NE

Mistaken Loyalty.

Water voles have burrows that are intricate, they often comprise a number of chambers linked by a system of tunnels. When young voles are in residence the female may loosely cover the entrance to the chamber with soil or grass. Breeding for this creature begins in March and endured till late autumn. Pregnancies last for around 21 - 23 days and up to 8 young are born. At birth the babies are blind but they open their eyes after 3 days or so. By the time they are ready to explore their riparian world they have attained half the size of their parents. It is possible that one pair of water voles may have up to five litters per season. It is therefore a little surprising that a creature which may produce up to 30 or more babies per season should now be classed as an endangered species in the U.K. So what reasons lie behind the creatures' unwanted status? Predators such as large Pike, birds of prey, Stoats and Weasels take their toll, but this is a natural state of affairs. However,one modern day predator the alien American Mink has devastated water vole populations in some areas. The irony of this fact is that American Mink were " liberated" from fur farms by so called animal lovers who released these killers into the wild to savage defenceless creatures such as the water vole.

Complex Factors

 Of course there are many complex factors that have played their part in the creatures' demise. These include habitat degradation and loss. Also if the banks of rivers, canals and lakes become neglected they become over grown with bramble and dense shrubbery which replaces the reeds and tall grasses that form the staple diet of the water vole . Pollution has also, played a part through poisoning by rodenticides and through " run off" from farm land and sewerage works.

LEGAL PROTECTION---Until 1998 the water vole received legal protection at all. In early 1998 their declining numbers prompted a revision of the Wildlife And Countryside Act 1981 {as amended} which added some protection to its status. It was still legal at this point to kill or trap water voles , but their burrows were given some protection and the animal was not to be disturbed in their homes This was included in order to make any water engineering work take into account these burrows when using heavy machinery, and all due care and attention must, by law, be taken to avoid damaging them

On the 6th of April 2008 the water voles protection was once again increased to make it an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used for that purpose. It also made it illegal to sell water voles or offer or expose the sale or transport for sale.

In the U.K. endangered species are placed on the Red List of conservation concern and as such become a Priority Species under the U.K. Biodiversity Action Plans{ B.A.P.s}. Priority Species are subject to a Species Action Plan that is implemented on behalf of the subject, and hopefully halt and eventually reverse the decline in population/distribution of that species.  

Hopefully a Lesson Learned

 As my grandfather educated me about the plight of the water vole,so the conservation groups educate a much wider audience enhanced by intense media coverage. I  hope that the water vole is safer in the future and that the protection and plans that are being implemented on their behalf are successful, or our grandchildren may be deprived of seeing this endearing creature in the countryside and water systems of the U.K.

Water vole top. Bottom illustration of the Brown rat

The harmless Water vole Wikipedia public domain
The harmless Water vole Wikipedia public domain
The detested brown rat.
The detested brown rat.

FOOT NOTE---The Cumbrian Water Vole Project, is a joint project with the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and the Eden Rivers Trust started a captive breeding programme where 25 pairs of water voles have bred some 100 young in  purpose built pens. the aims of this programme are to extend the dwindling wild population of water voles through introducing the captive bred creatures back into the wild in places of suitable habitat. This can only be of benefit to the species has a whole. Some critics  say this is just farming animals. However, it was man that deleted the populations therefore it is right that man helps them to get re-established in areas where they once thrived.

April 2014 { Water vole could be extinct in the UK by 2016

The Wetland Wildfowl Trust {WWT} has launched an appeal in order to save the water vole from extinction in the UK. the decline of this mammal is the most rapid and most serious in modern times. The decline is even faster than that of the Black Rhino in east Africa. The decline is over 90% since the 1970's. This is due to loss of wetland habitat and predation by the American mink. {see my hub the American minx.} The WWT say that without immediate help the water vole could be extinctin the UK by 2016.

If you can help please visit for details on how to help. click on Save the Water Vole.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Joy56, glad you have enjoyed them and thank you so much for your amazing comments which are much appreciated. I will do my best to bring home -to you - over in Ireland, a beautiful country in its own right as I am sure you are aware. Thanks again B, and best wishes to you .

    • Joy56 profile image


      6 years ago

      I have just scrolled down the titles of all your work, and i cannot believe you have written so many wonderful articles. Surely this is not just for hub pages. I find all your work extremely inspirational...... Keep these articles a coming. It is so nice to read about the place i am from when i live out here in Ireland. You make everything seem so asppealing, and i would love to come over and walk through this country side, with a guide, who was soooo appreciative of nature. Y ou are so gifted

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thank you coverley1 and likewise I am being taught of things in your country through your informative hubs.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thank you coverley1 and likewise I am being taught of things in your country through your informative hubs.

    • coverley1 profile image


      9 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Another interesting read....I am going to end up knowing more about your wildlife than my own country's. It is great to be able to continually learn from teachers who have the patience to impart their knowledge.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England


    • festersporling1 profile image

      Daniel Christian 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      I like that you are looking out for the creatures and earth on your hubs.


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