Water voles are the largest vole species in Britain. They are rat-sized, but with rounder faces, smaller ears and eyes, and a shorter tail.
They live in tall reeds and tussocky grasses beside streams, ditches, lakes and ponds, as well as open moorland and high ground.
Life cycle and predators
Water voles only live for about two years. They reproduce often with a single female producing up to five litters of five or six babies each year. Water vole populations peak in October. They have many predators including weasels, stoat, polecat, mink and fox, kestrel, buzzard, harrier, heron, barn owl and short-eared owl.
To escape predators, water voles take cover in dense vegetation, dive into water or dart into underground burrows. Unfortunately this is ineffective against the non-native mink that can catch it on the bank, in the water and underground.
Since the 1970s, water vole numbers have declined by around 95% due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and predation by mink. This loss is one of the most rapid and serious recorded declines of any British wild mammal during recent times (as fast as the decline of the Black Rhino in East Africa).
Because of this, water voles are now fully protected by law in the UK under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Water voles are covered by actions under the England Biodiversity Strategy..
How we are helping water voles
- We help keep remaining populations alive and well, defending them against the arrival of mink.
- We manage and restore wetland habitats so that they can be colonised by water voles.
More information about water voles