The water vole, Arvicola terrestris, is the largest of Britain’s native voles. Water voles inhabit rivers, streams, canals, ditches and other wetland areas. They are herbivorous and feed on aerial stems and leave of waterside plants, roots and bark of woody species, and rhizomes, roots and bulbs of herbaceous species.
Water voles use a series of bankside burrows that have many entrances, areas for food storage, nest chambers and bolt holes all accessible by inter-connecting tunnels.
Water voles breed between March and October when the females are territorial. Their territory varies between 30m-150m depending on season, population density and habitat quality. The male home range is from 60m to 300m.
Water voles are protected by UK law, making it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take water voles, possess or control live or dead water voles or derivatives, intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used for shelter or protection, intentionally or recklessly disturb water voles whilst occupying a structure or place used for that purpose, sell water voles or offer to expose for sale or transport for sale, or publish or cause to be published any advertisement which conveys the buying or selling of water voles.
Water vole surveys involve searching for characteristic water vole signs along the edge of a water course or body. These signs include droppings, latrines, burros, lawns around on-land burrow holes, feeding stations, footprints, above ground nests, and runways in vegetation.
If water voles are confirmed as being present on a site then all efforts should be made to ensure that water voles and their habitats are retained and protected. Where this is not possible, it may be necessary to capture and relocate the water voles to a suitable alternative habitat.
This will require a license obtained from the relevant body (Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, or the National Parks and Wildlife Service (RoI)).