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Grassland water voles in Glasgow

Inner city water voles making themselves at home

Water voles in grassland? If that sounds a bit unusual, it’s because it is. Most of our water voles are found splashing in streams and ditches but, in Scotland, an inner city population is making its home in an ordinary urban park. Instead of swimming through water they are fossorial, which means they burrow, a bit like moles.

How do they differ from other populations?

These Glaswegian grassland water voles are of national importance. So PTES gave funds to the University of Glasgow and Glasgow City Council to investigate how their behaviour differs from other water vole populations, examine to what extent they are at risk from American mink and work out how best to manage the park where they live to make sure this population is well looked after.

A team was able to radio-track water voles over the summer and early autumn. Interestingly the team found that these urban voles roamed over a smaller area than had been seen in previous grassland studies. Some of these voles lived in patches just 500 m², whilst a few occupied areas almost twice that size.

Creating a better understanding of habitat requirements

Their activity patterns were also monitored and it was discovered that some individuals travelled close to 30 m per hour. Slow for us but pretty speedy for an animal that small. However, the importance of gathering this type of information is that the team can now use it to create a risk alert map by overlaying water vole and mink records. What’s worrying is that 4% of water vole records were within 500 m of a watercourse and almost 2% within 50 m of stream or loch. One key wetland site is therefore now a priority for mink monitoring because it’s really well connected to the grassland water vole populations.

A set of guidelines has also been created to be used by developers and ecological consultants to help minimise risk to animals from new house building and other developments in the area. This project has helped generate a better understanding of urban water vole habitat requirements and, importantly, methods for managing grasslands for this important urban water vole population. We want to make sure that the first fossorial water voles known in the UK stay safe for years to come.

Thank you for helping us fund this research to protect water vole habitat in Glasgow.

If you’d like to support other areas of our work, please donate or set up a direct debit here today.

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