Immortalised as Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, water voles are a key part of our natural heritage. They were once a common sight along our waterways, but have rapidly disappeared from much of the landscape, experiencing one of the most serious declines of any British mammal over the last century. Landowners are particularly well placed to help water voles, by creating and maintaining the optimum habitat they need to thrive. Now, wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) has produced a free guide for the wider farming community and landowners, highlighting management actions that are water vole friendly.
The new guide, titled ‘Helping water voles on your land’, offers advice on simple improvements to land management practices that can enhance the suitability of habitat for water voles, helping to connect colonies across the countryside. The guide includes guidance on: livestock management beside water courses; buffer strips; sympathetic watercourse and ditch management; and restoring recreating and managing wetland habitats.
Colourful and creative, the guide also describes the benefits of these actions to water voles, as well as other native wildlife – from amphibians to invertebrates. Control of non-native American mink is also covered, in addition to details about agri-environmental schemes. The guide has been endorsed by the UK Water Vole Steering group, which includes representatives of the following organisations: Environment Agency, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and The Wildlife Trusts.
To download a free copy of the guide, visit www.ptes.org/water-voles.
Emily Marnham, Key Species Data & Monitoring Officer at PTES explains: “Water voles need waterways with wide margins of dense vegetation (both on the bankside and in the water), soft penetrable banks to burrow into, slow moving, relatively deep water and unshaded banks to be able to thrive. Many farmers and landowners already take a sustainable approach to management but to prevent further declines of this iconic species, there needs to be a sustained effort from all of us. We hope that with the help of this free guide, landowners will be able to make small changes on their land which will enhance the habitat for water voles.”
In 2018, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central and Chair of the Brexit Select Committee, became PTES’ Species Champion for water voles. MP Species Champions raise awareness of their species and the causes of their decline in Parliament and their constituencies. They are also encouraged to support the development of public policy and legislation that will help their species flourish.
Upon receiving the guide, Hilary Benn MP said: ““Cleaner rivers are good for wildlife, including water voles, and for all of us. Farming has a huge impact on water quality, and I hope this guide will help motivate landowners to create habitats that help our water vole population to increase and flourish.”
In 2015 PTES launched the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme to identify where water voles are living and where they’re most in need of conservation action. Each spring, volunteers record where they see signs or sightings of water voles, allowing PTES to better understand how water vole populations are faring across the UK. This new guide builds on this work, by showing what can be done in the countryside to help this species.
To find out more about water voles in general, visit: www.ptes.org/water-voles
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Notes to Editors
Available for interview:
- Emily Marnham, Key Species Data & Monitoring Officer, PTES
- Jill Nelson, CEO, PTES
- PTES, a UK conservation charity created in 1977, is ensuring a future for endangered species throughout the world. We protect some of our most threatened wildlife species and habitats, and provide practical conservation support through research, grant-aid, educational programmes, wildlife surveys, publications and public events.
- PTES’ current priority species and habitats include hazel dormice, hedgehogs, water voles, noble chafers, stag beetles, traditional orchards, native woodlands, wood pasture and parkland and hedgerows.
- PTES has Species Champions for three of its priority species: for water voles The Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central and Chair of the Brexit Select Committee, for hedgehogs The Rt Hon Chris Grayling, MP for Epsom & Ewell and Secretary of State for Transport, and for dormice The Rt Hon Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
- Visit www.ptes.org and follow PTES on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About water voles
- The water vole (Arvicola amphibius) 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%.
- Threats to water voles include: predation (particularly by American mink); loss and fragmentation of habitats; disturbance of riparian habitats; pollution of watercourses and poisoning by rodenticides; persecution (water voles are sometimes mistaken for rats); and severe winters and droughts which influence water levels.
About the UK Water Vole Steering Group
- Members of the UK Water Vole Steering Group include representatives from PTES, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, Environment Agency, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural Resources Wales.
About The Species Champion Project
- The Species Champions Project partners Members of Parliament from England with wildlife organisations to bring political support to the protection and promotion of threatened wildlife. Each MP becomes a ‘Species Champion’, adopting their own species.
- The project is run by the Rethink Nature partnership, a group of seven wildlife organisations working together to make a difference to species conservation. They are: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and the RSPB. Additional support is provided by the Angling Trust, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Somerset Wildlife Trust.
- Visit https://www.buglife.org.uk/specieschampions