Worcestershire Record No. 2 April 1997 p. 9


This is extracted from the Vole Watch Survey Leaflet and Worcestershire Wildlife News April 1997. For further information contact Andy Graham at the Trust office. Any records you make should also be sent to John Meiklejohn at the Worcs BRC at the Trust Office. The Wildlife Trusts have launched a national survey to assess the current populations of Water Voles, a species which is declining fast and in serious danger. Although launched through WATCH the survey is open to anyone - adults, children, families - interested in taking part in an important survey. Leaflets with full details of the survey and how to do it are available from Worcestershire Wildlife Trust HQ - please send a stamped and addressed envelope.

We know that Water Voles have vanished from most of Worcestershire's waterways - we should like to know of any streams where they survive - please tell us.

The Story So Far

from the Water VOLEWATCH survey leaflet

Water voles are the largest member of the British vole family. They used to be a common sight crouching at the water's edge or swimming close to the banks of waterways. Water voles, also known as water rats, are now threatened with extinction in Great Britain.

A nationwide survey in 1989/90 showed that water voles had gone from two-thirds of the sites where they had lived before. It seemed likely that half of these populations had been lost since 1980. Sadly, this makes the water vole one of the most rapidly declining animals in the UK.

Their disappearance appears to be a classic story of habitat damage and loss, leaving small water vole populations vulnerable to other threats. Land drainage, river 'improvement' and changes in waterside management have all destroyed water voles' habitat. American mink, which have been spreading across the country since the 1950s, eat lots of water voles.

How To Find Water Voles - Look or Signs

Water voles leave their droppings in latrines. These often show a trampled mass of hardened old droppings with fresh ones on the top. Water vole droppings look like small cylinders with blunt ends and they have no smell. They are usually 8mm to 12mm long and 4mm to 5mm wide. The exact colour and size will depend on the water voles food. The texture depends upon the freshness. Water voles probably use latrines to signal their presence to other individuals.

Water vole burrows appear as holes in the bank usually within 3m of the water. They normally measure 4cm to 8cm across and are often wider than they are high. Around these holes, grazed 'lawns' of short grass may be found. These usually belong to females with young, feeding within a safe distance of the burrow. Some burrow entrances open below the water line.

Water voles often bring their food to chosen places near the water's edge to eat. The food remains are left in neat piles and are usually bits of chewed plants about 8cm in length. Sometimes you can see marks of two front teeth on the pieces.

Other Animals To Look Out For And Record

Brown rats are about the same size as water voles but they look different. They have more pointed faces, more noticeable ears and longer, almost hairless tails. They are much bolder than water voles. Note down if you think you have seen a brown rat.

American mink are found along many of our waterways. They originally escaped or were released from fur farms and now breed widely across Britain. Mink are cat-sized mammals measuring 50cm to 60cm from nose to tail. They usually have dark brown fur and a white throat patch. They feed on water voles and other small mammals, water birds and fish. It is important we know whether mink are present in a survey area as we think they can seriously affect water vole numbers. Mink droppings or scats are long and thin, up to 8cm long and 1cm wide. They usually contain hair, feathers, bone fragments or fish scales and the fresh scats have an unpleasant smell. They are left in prominent places beside the water such as on ledges, under bridges, on partly submerged trees and where streams meet. Use sightings and scat presence to let us know about mink.

Otters are large, sinuous mammals, chocolate-brown in colour and measuring between 1m and 1.5m from nose to tail. They are twice as long and much more bulky than mink. Otter droppings or 'spraints' are likely to be found in similar places to those of mink. They are usually dark, almost black but may be brown or grey. They often appear spiky because they contain fish bones and scales but the most distinctive thing about the spraint is the smell. This may be sweet, musky or fishy but it is not unpleasant. As otter droppings are about the same size and shape as mink ones, the smell is a useful guide. The otter is making a welcome return to our waterways and we want to follow up any sightings - please let us know if you have seen one. If you find otter traces in Worcestershire phone Andy Graham, the Trust's Otter Officer at Trust HQ, as soon as possible.

Other Wildlife

You tell us! From dragonflies to kingfishers and frogs to salmon....

If you have more information about your survey site, or about water voles, mink or otters in your area, please let us know on an extra piece of paper. Sketch maps an anecdotes can be useful even if other details are not available.

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