New report points to 30% decline in water vole distribution

Water vole

Sussex Wildlife Trust have reported that a new analysis of data collected over ten years by a network of experts led by The Wildlife Trusts, has revealed that water vole distribution has continued to decline dramatically. On top of an estimated 94% decline up to 1994, there has been a further 30% decline across England and Wales between 2006 & 2015.

Whilst the new analysis reveals a slight increase in distribution in recent years – thanks to some successful conservation efforts by local Wildlife Trusts and others – the full data covering the whole ten years paints a bleak picture.

Water voles are a much-loved British mammal which used to be regularly seen and heard along every ditch, stream and river in the UK. A creature which burrows in banks and feeds on reeds and grass, the water vole was a lead character – known as ‘Ratty’ – in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic Wind in the Willows.

Huge conservation efforts have been made to ensure a future for this charismatic mammal: The Wildlife Trusts and others continue to carry out wetland restoration work and water vole reintroductions across the UK.At a local level, some of these projects have been highly successful; however, local successes are not big enough to reverse the ongoing national decline.

Habitat loss, water pollution and massive building development have led to declines in the voles since the 1960s; exacerbated by predation by North American mink.The water vole is one of the UK’s most rapidly declining mammals and has been lost from 94% of places where they were once prevalent.* The latest data revealing a ten year decline of 30% shows an ever-worsening situation: their range is continuing to contract.

Fran Southgate, Living Landscapes Officer for Sussex Wildlife Trust says:

“Water voles are an essential part of the food chain, and a species that we once considered to be common and widespread. Despite all the hard work that landowners, Wildlife Trusts and others have put in to try and reverse the decline of the water vole, they are still struggling to survive.

Their decline is indicative of a much more pervasive decline of natural habitat and wetland areas. If we don’t want them to disappear completely, we need national support, and sound legislation to prevent ongoing damage to both water voles and their habitats”.

The Wildlife Trusts are calling for:

  • Government to provide better funding for water vole conservation projects and to initiate landscape-scale restoration schemes
  • Government and Local Authorities to enable the creation of Nature Recovery Networks, as set out in the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment. Nature Recovery Networks should protect, connect and create areas of natural habitat to help wildlife move through the landscape, benefitting not just water voles but a range of other wildlife.
  • Landowners to manage river bank habitat positively to help water voles, e.g. providing generous buffer strips to provide shelter and feeding, opening up sections of the bank to the sun to prevent overshading, and creating soft edges to river banks for water voles to create burrows in
  • People to volunteer as water vole surveyors with their local Wildlife Trust and/or donate to charities to help support water vole recovery work.

The Wildlife Trusts are at the forefront of caring for the wild places that water voles need to survive. In 2013, Sussex Wildlife Trust helped to fund and deliver the Arun & Rother Connections Project in West Sussex, which involved local communities in surveying for water voles and restoring their habitat across two huge river catchments.

The Wildlife Trusts work across the UK restore habitats to help water voles and other river wildlife as well as reintroduce them back to areas where they are not at risk from mink.


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