Water voles numbers are declining and are considered a species of importance in England, Scotland and Wales. The species is protected by UK law and considered within the current planning system.
The new handbook provides much needed information for mitigating impacts on the species. The new book has four key recommendations which change guidance previously provided by the Water Vole Conservation Handbook, these are:
1. Licensing in relation to the 'displacement' of water voles;
Activities aimed at displacing water voles for development now require a licence and cannot rely on the previous 'incidental result' defence. Mitigation works must be undertaken in conjunction with an ecologist holding a class licence or under a site specific licence.
2. Recommended approach to relocating water voles (trapping or displacement);
There is a lack of evidence in regards to the effectiveness of displacement as a tool for relocating water voles and therefore the handbook provides some advice as to when displacement should be used as a technique over trapping. Dislacement is now recommended;
when the working area is upto a maximum of 50 metres long or less when voles are at a high density;
when works are carried out between 15th February and 15th April; and
when there is sufficient alternative habitat for water voles to move into.
(Research is currently being undertaken by Dr Merryl Gelling of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru) to test the effectiveness of vegetation removal for displacing water voles).
3. Appropriate timing for trapping and relocation operations; and
Ideally trapping should occur between 1st March and 15th April or as a last resort between 15th September and 30th November.
4. Water vole surveys to support planning application, or othr construction activities.
There are various protocols for surveys supporting planning applications or other construction activities. Typically this will include field sign surveys on at least two separate visits (one between mid-April/ end of June and the second between July and September), although there are some sitiuations where a single visit is necessary.
Ecology by Design have alot of experience of surveying and mitigating for water voles using both the displacement and traping techniques. Please get on touch to discuss any projects where water voles may be a constraint.