Another threat

One of our most endangered mammal species is under threat.  Play the video produced by Leo Aylen and introduced by Prunella Scales to appreciate the problem facing the water voles and other protected species in the River Wylie.  

"In Britain more than 700,00 houses currently stand empty.  And how much brownfield lad is there?  Enough for 2 million homes."

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Good News

t’s very early in the year, but already there are a few signs that water voles are about. This latrine was spotted in Broughall, and in the fields off Edgeley Road there are clear water vole tracks.


Water vole prints in the ditch by Grocontinental 


These are footprints under the bridge at Greenfields Nature reserve


 Latrine at Broughall




August Report 2013


Mostly it seems to have been a stable summer for the Whitchurch water voles. The colonies at Edgeley Road and Grocontinental have held their own, as have the ones at White Lion Meadow car park (near Tesco), at Mossfields and at Black Park Road. There’s otter presence at the Black Park Road site, too. Unfortunately the vegetation at Greenfields, the country park, is currently too thick to get anywhere near the banks, so it’s hard to tell how the population’s going on there. There were certainly water voles at Greenfields Rise in late June because we had a sighting.

Less good is what’s happened at the Prees Branch Canal nature reserve, where what used to be a thriving colony now seems dramatically reduced in numbers, with just a few signs near Dobson’s Bridge. The most likely explanation is mink predation, as there’s been no obvious disturbance to the water quality or banks.

The management of the brook along the back of Wayland’s Road is also an issue, as all cover and food has been stripped along the whole length of both sides of this stretch. We’re trying to find out who’s done this then we can stop it happening again.

It’s vital that landowners follow best practice in clearing out ditches and in cutting back riverside plants. If in doubt, ask – there’s any amount of advice out there. Water voles are protected by law and it’s an offence to damage their habitat.

(Thanks to Kate Long for writing this article)


Autumn and Winter


So we’re into Autumn, and I doubt there’ll be any more sighting between now and February/March next year.

It’s not that water voles hibernate, as such, but they do start to spend a lot more time underground. With food being in shorter supply during the cold months, they have to find ways of conserving energy. Calorie-wise, stores of tubers, bulbs and rhizomes will keep them going, but the voles will still need to pace themselves. Radio tracking suggests that during the deepest winter they spend three or four days at a time in their nest chambers, presumably sleeping, and packed in alongside other, sometimes unrelated water voles for warmth. This might sound surprising for an animal usually so territorial, but during the shortened daylight hours, hormone levels are low and won’t be triggered again until February. For now the voles have nothing to do but tick over.

When they do move about it tends to still be underground, between food stores and special galleries they excavate to take compacted waste. Interestingly, Professor Xavier Lambin of Aberdeen’s zoology department speculates that these galleries, full of droppings and food scraps, might also be a way of generating extra heat. Derek Gow, specialist in water vole ecology, points out that an additional method of controlling temperature during the colder months is the plugging of some burrow entrances using a mixture of mud and vegetation.

So the general strategy is one of hunkering down. Although individual voles may make brief forays to the surface to nab a few greens, especially if there’s a covering of snow under which to hide, they won’t be leaving the field signs that punctuate the banks during the spring and summer.


(Thanks to Kate Long for writing this article)