Once a familiar sight along our waterways, water voles have rapidly disappeared from much of the landscape, experiencing the most serious decline of any wild mammal over the last century.
The shocking drop in numbers is due to the release and spread of non-native mink across the countryside, and also the loss and degradation of much of our waterways.
To ensure that we have a better picture of what is happening to the species nationally and that we are in a position to act quickly when needed, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is launching the first ongoing National Water Vole Monitoring Programme across England, Scotland and Wales, working in collaboration with The Wildlife Trusts, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, Environment Agency, Natural England and RSPB.
Through the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, PTES aims to bring together all the valuable work that is being carried out across the country, as well as monitor selected historical sites, to establish any changes in the population and to help guide future conservation efforts.
The Vincent Wildlife Trust conducted two national surveys between 1989-90 and 1996-98 that first demonstrated the dramatic decline of water voles across Britain.
The sites that were visited during these two surveys will form the basis of the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme. By regularly resurveying these sites, PTES will be able to identify any changes that have happened since the late 1990s, as well as detect any emerging national trends.
PTES is calling for volunteers to get involved in the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme by conducting an annual field survey on a single site and while no experience is required, those taking part will need to learn how to identify water vole field signs.
Participants will be able to choose one or more of the nearly 900 pre-selected sites across England, Wales and Scotland and will be expected to survey their individual site once a year.
If you already monitor water voles you can add your site and data to survey. To find out more about taking part please visit www.ptes.org/watervoles.
As Emily Thomas, who is coordinating the programme, concludes: “In the last couple of decades conservation groups have been working hard to try and save the much loved water vole, however it’s difficult to track the overall effectiveness of this work without seeing how the national picture has changed since the 1990s.
“The National Water Vole Monitoring Programme will show us where water voles are and in what numbers, as well as where they’ve disappeared, allowing us plan and carry out effective conservation actions that will really make a difference to water voles.”
Images of water voles by Ian Schofield and Iain Green