Friday, 28 April 2017

Illustrated Script for a Talk for Children on Water Voles

Water voles are small UK mammals, about the size of small guinea pigs but with furry tails.

They like to live on the banks of streams, rivers and ponds. We call this habitat 'riparian'. Water voles like banks thickly covered in grass and reeds that they can eat and where they can hide from the animals that eat them (predators).  They also like the bottom of the river to be covered in mud, so that when they're escaping in the water, they can kick up a screen of silt and hide inside it. 

Mostly they live inside the banks, in burrows that they dig with their strong teeth. These burrows are about as wide as a tube of Pringles, and round the entrance you'll see the grass has been nibbled short. These nibbled patches are sometimes called 'vole lawns'. Each vole will make lots of burrows so there's always a means of escape close by.

Water voles are pretty much entirely vegetarian. They spend a lot of time eating, and don't much mind what plants. I've even seen them eat nettles! They grasp each stem with their paws and bite into the middle, leaving a diagonal cut at the end. One of the most obvious signs that there are voles about is the piles of chopped-up vegetation they leave lying on the banks. The name for these is 'feeding stations'.

Voles are "at the bottom of the food chain", meaning a lot of other animals like to hunt them. Cats, dogs, owls, hawks, magpies, grass snakes, pike, polecats, weasels, stoats, heron, rats, otters and mink will all take water voles. Average life expectancy for a water vole is short; none of them get much past eighteen months. So to make up for this, they breed fast, females having anything up to five litters a year with 5-6 pups in each litter. They are also excellent at a fast getaway, either plopping into the water and swimming off or shooting down a burrow out of danger.

Because they're shy, it can be hard to tell whether water voles are present on a site. But they're helpful animals and leave us little signs. As well as the burrows and feeding stations, you can look out for 'latrines', piles of droppings that water voles use as signposts for other voles - "Keep out, this is my territory". Water vole poo is made up of brown-green pellets about the size of TicTacs, and it's often place somewhere prominent like a stone.

The sad news is that water voles are very endangered. A lot of their habitat has been destroyed by building or water pollution and their situation is getting desperate. So how can we help? Mainly by looking out for them, and by reporting any sightings of water voles or even just of their feeding, burrows or latrines. You can contact the Wildlife Trust if you suspect you have water voles living near you, and send in any photos you have of signs. Try and make sure no one mistakes them for rats and tries to poison them. And if you own a cat, keep it in at night, and attach a little cheap flashing light to its collar (this makes the cat safer on the roads anyway).

Water voles are friendly animals, and if you ever see one, sit patiently and you may find it comes very close indeed!


Thursday, 27 April 2017

New Areas

Wood Yard vole

 Edward German Drive: burrow and vole.

I knew there were water voles on both sites due to the abundant field signs, but it's always nice to log an actual sighting. Saw another vole at White Lion Meadow car park tonight, too.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Advanced Poo-spotting

Holly Blue

 Treecreeper - there are a pair of these, one often feeding the other.

Below, water vole droppings on mud can be hard to spot!

Spotting water vole droppings is great because they're one of the few field signs that are unambiguous. Rounded at each end, slightly larger than Tic Tacs and odourless, water vole pellets are often deposited as territorial markers. Sometimes voles will choose prominent, impervious surfaces on which to poo, like logs or flat stones or plastic bottles, old car sponges, abandoned polystyrene tiles. Then latrines are easy to spot. But when voles leave their olive/brown droppings on mud - and then trample them - it can be hard to distinguish. Use a zoom lens or binoculars to examine closely any spot where the soil looks a bit lumpy, or where flies are gathering.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Amazing Adder

Hugely exciting encounter on Wem Moss this morning as a young male adder slid across our path and then sat and basked on the bank while we took photos. It was lovely to see how relaxed the snake was, flattening itself out to catch maximum warmth from the sun. Because it was fairly small (see bottom photo) I assume this was only a juvenile. I wouldn't think it was much bigger than about 40cm. Needless to say, I've reported it via

Friday, 21 April 2017


 Long tailed tit

 Ruby tiger moth

 Adder skin?

These voles above are the two that were fighting in the previous video. The one with the wound on its neck ran off into the field, away from the water. The other vole sat and groomed, and then rubbed its chin up and down the muddy twig in the second-to-last picture. I thought their musk glands were on their flanks, like hamsters', but perhaps there's another located round the neck. Or maybe it was just itchy! I don't know if the first vole will come back now, or if it will have to find another territory.

I like this White Lion Meadow photo as it shows a water vole in the process of creating a feeding station. Piles of chopped up leaves are often a good indicator that water voles are about, though if the scale's very small, it can be the work of field voles.

Fighting Voles


These two Edgeley Road water voles fought in bouts, for about three minutes. The winner came from upstream, and the defeated vole was the one with the wound on its neck. I'm not sure what happens next though: does the chased-off vole creep out later, when the victor's swum back to its territory?

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Llangollen Canal

 Bee fly. I love them.

 Definitely vole feeding. Water vole? Or field vole?

 This burrow is the right size for water vole.

I found myself on a stretch of the Llangollen canal past Ellesemere where I knew there was a history of water vole presence, so I stopped and had a look. The signs weren't quite as definitive as last time, but there were quite a few burrows of the right diameter - think Pringles tube - and some definite feeding. However, it's not just water voles who cut stems at 45%; field voles do too, and there were also field vole burrows. So this is a site to watch, I'd say.