Did you know that over the last century the water vole has experienced the most severe decline of any wild mammal in the UK?

In 2015, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) launched the first National Water Vole Monitoring Programme (NWVMP). Following two successful years, this May, PTES is once again calling for existing volunteers and new recruits to survey sites for signs and sightings of water voles, to find out how populations are faring across the UK.

Water voles were once a common sight along UK riverbanks and waterways, but during the 20th century their populations experienced a dramatic decline due to the intensification of agriculture, loss and fragmentation of habitat, pollution of watercourses and more recently predation by non-native American mink. The impact of mink has been particularly devastating – between 1989 and 1998 the water vole population crashed by almost 90%. Since then conservation groups have been working hard to improve habitats and control mink numbers, to try and save the much-loved water vole, but it’s important to monitor how populations have responded and what the current national picture is. By keeping a closer eye on water voles, PTES can respond quickly if a crisis happens in the future.

Last year, PTES received data from 404 sites across England, Scotland and Wales, of which 185 had water vole signs present (46%). The distribution of positive sites was skewed towards Scotland, partly due to the large number of sites surveyed there, but encouragingly there were occupied sites across the UK from Cornwall to the Highlands. While this is good news, PTES is looking for more volunteers to survey sites this year to ensure all regions have enough sites being surveyed to get a clear picture of water vole numbers across the UK. In particular, more surveyors are needed to take part in north east England, southern Scotland, parts of Wales and the West Midlands.

Volunteers are asked to survey one of the nearly 900 pre-selected sites across the UK, recording all sightings and signs of water voles along a 500m length of riverbank during May. Sites that are already being surveyed can also be registered with the programme.  Though no prior experience is required, volunteers will need to learn how to identify water vole field signs.

Emily Thomas, Key Species Monitoring and Data Officer at PTES explains: “We’ve had a fantastic response to the NWVMP over the last two years and the data collected so far is invaluable. With the help of volunteers, we will continue building a robust dataset which will be used to monitor year on year trends in the water vole population, to establish any further changes and to help guide future conservation efforts”

To find out more, or to take part in PTES’ 2017 National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, visit: www.ptes.org/watervoles

If you want to support PTES’ ongoing conservation work, you can donate £3 by texting ‘PTES17 £3’ to 70070.

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 releasedfrom fur farms and spread across the countryside. Between 1989 and 1998 the water vole population crashed by almost 90%.
  • Threats to water voles include: predation (particularly by American mink); loss and fragmentation of habitats; disturbance of riparian habitats; pollution of watercourses and poisoning by rodenticides; persecution (water voles are sometimes mistaken for rats); and severe winters and droughts which influence water levels.

About PTES

  • PTES, a UK conservation charity created in 1977, is ensuring a future for endangered species throughout the world. We protect some of our most threatened wildlife species and habitats, and provide practical conservation support through research, grant-aid, educational programmes, wildlife surveys, publications and public events. Our current priority species and habitats include hazel dormice, hedgehogs, water voles, noble chafers, stag beetles, traditional orchards and native woodlands.
  • If you want to support PTES’ ongoing conservation work, you can donate £3 by texting ‘PTES17 £3’ to 70070.

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