Water Vole Survey

Water vole

Britain's largest vole, the water vole, has suffered the most dramatic decline of any UK mammal during the 1900s, and have disappeared altogether from some counties in the South West. Despite considerable efforts at conservation, their distribution is still patchy, with habitat loss and the introduction of the invasive American mink speeding their decline.

Because of this, water voles are protected under UK law. It is an offence to deliberately capture, injure or kill them or damage, destroy or obstruct their breeding or resting places. The animals are found in slow-running rivers, streams, ditches, lakes, reed-beds, marshes, ponds with steep banks, upland areas and heathland. If you’re commissioning a development on any land which is potentially inhabited by water voles, you will also need to commission a water vole survey.

To give you an idea of what is involved, water voles live in burrows which can extend up to 3 metres from the water’s edge. Females often make complex lawns of grazed vegetation around the burrow entrance . Female territory can extend as far as 150m and males range as far as 300m. The creatures are most active during the day but it's rare to actually see one. They don't hibernate, but are less active in cold weather.

Disturbing water voles can be avoided by making minor changes to working practices, but if disturbance is unavoidable a conservation licence will be required to allow works to proceed. The licence acts as a permit to exclude the water voles from the site. Once works have been completed the site will be re-instated and enhanced to demonstrate a net conservation gain.

In specialist scenarios, Ecology by Design can work with captive breeding programmes to remove the voles, breed them and release them once your works are complete.

About Water Vole Surveys

The best time to conduct water vole surveys is during the breeding season when they're most active. Two surveys are required to confirm presence and a population estimate of water voles. Our survey reveals whether watercourses up to 500m from your site contain evidence of water voles. The survey involves us carefully assessing riverbanks and bodies of water both on and off site, looking for water vole burrows, latrines, droppings and feeding signs.

We also look for burrows, 'lawns', above ground nests, footprints, and vole pathways through the vegetation. Aquatic vegetation can limit surveys, in some cases survey methods are specially adapted to include access via kayaks, boats and remote trail cameras.

The report we provide includes a summary of the legal implications of water voles on the site, and theenhancements and mitigation we recommend to help you achieve a successful planning application while protecting these rare mammals. 

Otter surveys can often be completed in tandem with water vole surveys.

Arrange a Water Vole Survey

We are qualified to advise you about every aspect of water vole conservation, including surveying, river corridor management and mitigation. Water vole surveys can take place between early April and late October.

Two survey visits are required, one early in the year and one late, to account for the seasonal variations in their numbers.

If you'd like to go ahead or have any questions, call us on 01865893346 or: