Water Vole Arvicola terrestris
The squat and furry water vole is a diurnal creature that can be found in either aquatic or dry habitats. Despite its versatility, it is a threatened species suffering from a substantial population decline.
Conservation status in Norfolk
The water vole is a threatened species. It has suffered the largest decline of any British mammal in recent years. Some estimates now place the population decline of water voles at 90%. Although water voles have declined in Norfolk, it remains a national stronghold with strong populations in the Broads, along the North Norfolk coast, in the Fens area and on the South Norfolk clay lands.
How to help
If you have water voles on your land ensure that waterside vegetation is allowed to grow tall, and streams, dykes and ditches have wide margins, where the vegetation is not cut too frequently or over-grazed. This will provide quality homes for voles.
Information on the Water Vole
How to recognise
With rounded heads and dumpy, rotund bodies they look rather like an aquatic version of a guinea pig. The only waterside species they are likely to be confused with is the brown rat, from which they can easily be distinguished by their blunt, rounded vole noses and inconspicuous ears which, unlike a rat’s, are almost hidden in their fur. Their hair-covered tail is not as long as a rat’s, extending to only about 60% of their head and body length. Most water voles are dark brown but individuals can vary with reddish brown to almost black voles being recorded.
Where to see
Water voles favour slow-flowing or still freshwater with lots of bank side plant cover. They avoid areas where water levels fluctuate and prefer streams, dykes, rivers and ponds with soft, earth banks which they can burrow into.
Sites such as Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves Hickling and Ranworth are good places to observe water voles. Well-vegetated freshwater dykes along the edges of cattle-grazed fields in the Norfolk Fens, much of the River Wensum catchment and along the north Norfolk coast also support small populations.
When to see
Most frequently seen in spring, summer and autumn. Unlike many small mammals, water voles are active during the day but are easily disturbed so a quiet approach is essential. Often the first sign of a water vole is the distinctive plop as it dives for safety into the water.
Early in the year, most of the water vole’s time is spent in burrows underground. The breeding season begins at the end of March. Many young voles are born in May and weaned during June. Water voles are at their most numerous during September.
Did you know?
‘Ratty’ in The Wind in the Willows was, in fact, a water vole.
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