Water Vole Surveys
The water vole is Britain’s largest vole species. Its habitat consists of rivers, ditches, streams, canals and other wetland areas where it feeds on waterside vegetation. Water voles form extensive burrows along banks, which can contain several entrances but they will also build woven nests amongst reeds and sedges. Water vole populations have declined dramatically in England, Scotland and Wales (they are not present in Ireland), particularly over the last 30 years due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and predation by the introduced American mink.
Survey Types & Timing
Water vole surveys should be undertaken prior to any work that may affect a riparian habitat where they are likely to exist. A habitat assessment (looking for suitable shelter, banks and foraging opportunities) can determine whether or not a water vole survey is required. Due to their elusive nature water vole surveys rely on identifying field signs of this mammal along the edge of a water body. Field signs include droppings, latrines, feeding stations, footprints, burrows, runways through vegetation, grazed lawns and nests.
The breeding season for water voles runs from late March until October. During this time water voles are highly active and leave many field signs, which can be used to confirm their presence during a water vole survey. Habitat assessments can be undertaken at any time of year.
Legislation & Planning
Water voles are fully protected by the provisions of Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), which make it an offence to:
- Intentionally kill, injure or take water voles
- Possess or control live or dead water voles or derivatives
- Intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used for shelter or protection
- Intentionally or recklessly disturb water voles whilst occupying a structure or place used for that purpose
- Sell water voles or offer or expose for sale or transport for sale
- Publish or cause to be published any advertisement which conveys the buying or selling of water voles.
Local Planning Authorities are obliged to water vole surveys to accompany planning applications where they believe there is a reasonable likelihood that water voles are present.
The Next Step
If water vole presence is confirmed on site all efforts should be made to ensure that water voles and their habitat are retained and suitably protected within a proposed development layout. If it is not feasible to retain water vole habitat, it may be necessary to re-locate water voles to suitable alternative habitat; this will need to be done under a licence issued by the relevant statutory organisation (e.g. Natural England). Water voles can be captured using purposely designed fencing and traps. However, it might also be possible to encourage the dispersal of water voles to alternative habitats nearby. Please note that a licence is required in order to capture water voles or damage their habitat.