When did you last hear or see a Water Vole Arvicola amphibious
drop from a bank into water? "Ratty", of "Wind in the Willows"
fame, is the fastest declining mammal in Britain. Once commonly
seen, it has virtually disappeared from most of the country and
is rapidly heading towards extinction.
the early 1990's it was considered to be extinct in Cumbria, but
there is recent good news from both the north-east and from the
south of the county. Sightings around Alston and between the Leven
and Kent estuaries, conform that it is just hanging on in the
twin threats of bank "improvement" and predation by mink have
driven numbers to these perilous levels. Intensive agriculture
cleaned up ditch and river banks, destroying vital cover. Mink
are widely found across the south of the county; it is the only
species fast enough to catch the Water Vole in water and small
enough to enter their burrows.
restoration is needed where Water Voles occur, as it is now known
that a very wide strip of bankside vegetation makes it much harder
for Mink to find the voles. Equally, Mink numbers must be controlled
if the Water Vole is to survive.
Water Vole is, in fact, not related to the Rat, another frequenter
of ditch and river banks. On entering the water, however, a rat
is more likely to swim along the surface, while the Water Vole
is more likely to submerge. Also, the vole is more rounded, blunt
nosed and has a shorter furry tail. The burrows are likely to
be "gardened" around the entrance - a neat vole-sized (20 cm)
semi-circle where the vegetation has been neatly clipped!
species was formerly seen across South Cumbria from Walney, through
the Furness and Cartmel peninsulas, to Kendal and in many other
parts of the county. Breeding usually starts in March and there
can be several litters through the summer.
the situation had become so dire, the decision was taken in 2005
to collect some of the Alston population for a captive breeding
programme. So as not to deplete numbers only those below a survival
weight in late autumn were taken - these members of the last litters
would have been very unlikely to survive the winter. Following
successful breeding a large number of animals were released at
an M.O.D. site at Warcop in the Eden Valley in Spring 2007.
Please look out for any signs of Water Voles in suitable habitat
and report all sightings to Cumbria Wildlife Trust.