Volunteer and help reverse ‘shocking decline’ in voles

editorial image

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.

The water vole is our largest vole and is found throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

Their numbers started to decline during the 1940s and 1950s when the intensification of agriculture caused the loss and degradation of their habitat, but the most devastating factor to their decline occurred in the 1980s and 1990s when American mink, which had been breeding in the wild since the mid-1950s, were illegally released from fur farms and spread across the countryside.

Between 1989 and 1998 the water vole population crashed by almost 90 per cent.

Threats to water voles include predation, loss and fragmentation of habitats (particularly through inappropriate management and agricultural intensification), along with pollution of watercourses and poisoning by rodenticides.

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.

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.