Glasgow’s grassland water voles

Water voles – as their name suggests – are usually found in streams or ditches and are well-known for their aquatic lifestyle. However, our Glaswegian voles are bucking the trend. These grassland water voles are nationally important. Not only do they live in relatively high numbers compared with their aquatic cousins, but they also live a ‘fossorial’ existence, burrowing like moles, rather than swimming as we expect them to.

We have been supporting a team in Scotland to investigate the ecology and behaviour of these grassland water voles, understand what risks they face from living in the city and develop plans to protect these urban water voles.

The Water Voles in the City project team has been investigating how the grassland water voles of Glasgow make a living.  With funding from People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the team radio-tracked ten water voles in the Greater Easterhouse area of Glasgow in autumn 2018. The area they typically forage, sleep and live in – their home range – was found to be smaller than those of voles in previous grassland studies. But the home range size between individuals differed largely from under 200m² to almost 900m². It’s important to know how much land each animal tends to need because as building work takes place across the city, new habitat may need to be created and it’s critical to know how much area voles need to live in.

The activity patterns of voles varied too with some individuals travelling as much as 30m per hour. This information will help the team work out where the voles are most at risk from being predated by American mink and where to focus efforts to protect them.

Of considerable concern was their finding that 4 % of water vole records were within 500 m of a watercourse and almost 2 % within 50m of stream or loch. One key wetland site is therefore now a priority for mink monitoring due to its high connectivity with grassland water vole populations. 

The team has also developed Interim Guidelines for the Conservation Management of Urban Grassland Water Voles.  The guidelines provide current best practice on the conservation management of grassland water voles and are freely available online. We hope these guidelines will be widely used by developers and ecological consultants to help minimise risk to animals from new house building and other developments in the area. Water Voles in the City is a partnership between the University of Glasgow, Glasgow City Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Seven Lochs Partnership

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