Launch of first National Water Vole Monitoring Programme
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.
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. The sites that were visited during these two surveys will form the basis of the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme. 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
As Emily Thomas, who is coordinating the programme, concludes: “In the last couple of decades conservation groups have been working hard to try and save the much loved water vole, however it’s difficult to track the overall effectiveness of this work without seeing how the national picture has changed since the 1990s. The National Water Vole Monitoring Programme will show us where water voles are and in what numbers, as well as where they’ve disappeared, allowing us plan and carry out effective conservation actions that will really make a difference to water voles.”
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Notes to Editors:
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%.
PTES is a UK conservation charity created in 1977 to ensure a future for endangered species throughout the world. Working to protect some of our most threatened wildlife species and habitats, it provides practical conservation support through funding research and internships; providing grant-aid for world-wide and native mammals species conservation; supporting education, training and outreach programmes; and driving public participation via wildlife monitoring surveys, publications, campaigns and events. Priority species and habitats include hazel dormice, hedgehogs, water voles, noble chafer and stag beetles and traditional orchards and native woodlands.
About the National Water Vole Database and Mapping Project
The National Water Vole Database and Mapping Project is managed by The Wildlife Trusts. It was established in 2008 by the UK Water Vole Steering Group, with funding provided by the Environment Agency, Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species, as a way to collate water vole survey records, map the distribution of this species and identify important areas for water vole conservation. The Project also collates and maps data on American mink.
Data gathered by the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme will be submitted to the National Water Vole Database and Mapping Project, so it can be included in the national distribution maps and alert and key area map.
About the UK Water Vole Steering Group
Members of the UK Water Vole Steering Group include representatives from PTES, The Wildlife Trusts, Environment Agency, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Natural Resources Wales.
About the threats to water voles
• Predation – particularly by non-native American mink
• Loss and fragmentation of habitats – particularly through inappropriate management and agricultural intensification (e.g. re-profiling, heavy grazing, drainage, vegetation control and extensive bankside tree-planting)
• Disturbance of riparian habitats
• Pollution of watercourses and poisoning by rodenticides
• Persecution – sometimes in the mistaken belief that water voles are rats
• Severe winters and droughts – these lead to significant water level fluctuations