Water voles are about the same size as rats and if seen they are often confused with rats.
Water voles however, have a blunt nose, chestnut-brown fur, short rounded ears and short hair-covered tail. Rats have larger ears and hairless tails. Water voles are usually found along well vegetated banks of slow flowing rivers, ditches and lakes, feeding on grasses and waterside vegetation. They live in burrows dug into the banks of waterways. Water voles tend to be active more during the day than at night. They can dive and swim with great ease (although not for very long), a tactic that helps them avoid predators.
Water voles usually have three or four litters a year, depending on the weather. In mild springs the first of these can be born in March or April, though cold conditions can delay breeding until May or even June. There are about five young in a litter, which are born below ground in a nest made from suitable vegetation, notably grasses and rushes. Although blind and hairless at birth, young water voles grow quickly, and are weaned at 14 days. On average, water voles only live for about about five months in the wild.
Their most significant predators are mink and stoats; though herons, barn owls, brown rats and pike are also known to hunt them.
Recent evidence indicates that water voles have undergone a long term decline in Britain. Predation by the non-native, invasive American mink has had a severe impact on water vole populations, even causing local extinctions. Habitat degradation and pollution are also thought to have contributed to the decline of the water vole.
Water voles are legally protected in Britain. For more information on water voles and planning applications in the National Park, click here.
For more information on water voles see the Mammal Society’s website – click here.
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