North York Moors

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Water voles

Water VoleWater Vole

A helping hand for water voles

Once a common sight throughout Britain, water voles have suffered a massive decline in recent decades, disappearing from 90% of known sites. As well as loss of habitat, predation by the introduced American mink has contributed considerably to the species’ decline. Other animals such as otters, birds of prey and foxes will eat water voles but mink are able to get into the burrows, wiping out entire populations. 
Staff at the North York Moors National Park Authority and other organisations, including the Forestry Commission, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, RAF Fylingdales and National Trust, together with various estates are carrying out a range of work aimed at protecting remaining water vole populations in the National Park by enhancing habitat and linking up fragmented colonies.

Improving water vole habitat

Much of our work is concentrated in the south-east of the National Park on the Langdale Forest Project and on Fylingdales and Lockton High Moors. Conifer trees have been felled, impenetrable scrub cleared to let in more light and encourage suitable vegetation and ditches have been dug within marshes to create linear pools with slow moving water and muddy bottoms. The work to restore upland peatlands will also benefit water voles.
Woodland and moorland are not typically where you would expect to find water voles but in the North York Moors and elsewhere this is increasingly where populations of this shy rodent are being discovered due in part to the loss of their preferred lowland river and wetland habitats. 

Population monitoring

We have also placed a number of mammal monitoring rafts on watercourses downstream of known water vole populations. A wooden ‘tunnel’ on these simple structures contains a tray with wet clay to capture the footprints of any inquisitive visitors. The rafts are monitored on a regular basis by the National Park Authority’s volunteers who've been trained to identify footprints and droppings.

Fact file 

  • Water voles need to consume 80% of their body weight daily and munch on over 200 species of terrestrial and aquatic plants.
  • They live for about two years and can breed several times a year with an average litter size of six.
  • Home is a system of burrows on the banks of watercourses, ponds and lakes or within dense vegetation in wetlands.
  • Water voles like watercourses with overhanging vegetation and muddy bottoms so they can hide from predators.