Water Vole Soup*

By Andy Graham

This last summer has seen the Wildlife Trust carry out the first attempt at a systematic survey for Water Voles in the county (sponsored by Worcester City Council, Pershore Town Council, British Waterways and Environment Agency). Lead by Beth Nightingale and ably assisted by Andy Graham (sometimes) a small team of trained volunteers visited approximately 250 sites throughout Worcestershire from April to September. Using the national methodology worked up by Mr Water Vole himself, Rob Strachan, our merry band worked hard to find conclusive signs of vole activity along rivers, streams and ditches both urban and rural. Although droppings, latrines, burrows and the creatures themselves are easy to spot where they occur, it seems that Worcestershire has all but lost its population of these riverside mammals.

Evidence of Water Voles was found on only a handful of sites, the best being the Worcester and Birmingham canal between Alvechurch and Tardebigge. Other sites include several brooks in or near Bromsgrove, on the Badsey Brook catchment and within Pershore. This came as no surprise given that national predictions of a total collapse in populations have been voiced for a long time now, specifically that less than 10% of sites formerly containing voles are positive today and that Water Voles will be extinct very soon. However, it is of great concern that of the 80 or so historic sites re-visited only two or three yielded any current evidence.

It is clear that now (or should that be yesterday?) is the time for action. Further "strategising" is of limited use and so with that in mind WVV’T is involved in two initiatives. Firstly, we are working with British Waterways to ensure that Water Vole colonies are managed sensitively and that where they occur site specific management techniques are used. This has involved using "soft" engineering on banks to combat erosion but also to safeguard and enhance marginal and aquatic plant communities which underpin successful vole conservation. Secondly, we are also working with Bromsgrove District Council and Bromsgrove Civic Society to create a network of Water Vole reserves early next year focused on the Spadesboume, Battlefield and Sugar Brooks.

I should thank all of the surveyors for their hard and determined work especially because they didn’t have the benefit of locating Water Voles to spur them on. Lastly, a survey report will be available from WWT before Christmas. If you have any recent sightings then please let me know and I will ensure that they are investigated, recorded and protected where possible

(*Like you, the reader, I also have no idea what the author means by this! - Ed)

Water Vole from The Nature of Worcestershire drawn by Brett Westwood

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