Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Water Voles in the Windrush Valley

BBOWT Water Vole Project Officer Julia Lofthouse enchanted us with her pictures of these delightful furry animals and told us details about their life cycles and habitats that I am sure I had never heard before.  The water vole in the UK is the same species as in Europe but there they are entirely land based and it is only the british vole that has taken to the water for some reason. Which partly explains why they are not very good swimmers.

Water vole carrying young

BBOWT volunteers survey for water voles in the summer looking for their characteristic latrines and the piles of plants that they cut and store ready for eating later. They also make very distinctive burrows in the banks of streams and ditches and you can sometimes see the holes on the surface of the land as well as the paths they make.

Numbers have crashed across the country but they seem to be doing reasonably well along the Windrush and across at Chimney Meadows at the moment. Two main reasons would seem to account for the catastrohic decline; firstly the extensive changes in habitat along rivers and streams and secondly, the presence of american mink which are great predators of water voles. The female mink is small enough to pursue the voles into their burrows which is their usual defence strategy. Where good riverside habitat can be maintained and the mink kept to minimum levels the populations of water voles can pick up rapidly. They mature very quickly and they may have up to five litters a year. No wonder their life span may be as short as seven months, although some have been recorded living up to three years.

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