Cotswold Greats


Wa­ter vole The Wind in the Wil­lows char­ac­ter Ratty has placed the wa­ter vole in the con­scious­ness of many a young­ster, even if they’ve never seen this elu­sive mam­mal in real life.

This na­tive crea­ture, once com­mon around ditches and slow-mov­ing rivers and streams, is now one of the UK’S most threat­ened species. In Glouces­ter­shire they’ve dis­ap­peared from en­tire river sys­tems, with just a few frag­mented pop­u­la­tions re­main­ing in the county.

Th­ese semi-ac­quatic mam­mals mea­sure between 14 and 22cm in length, weigh between 140 and 350g and are sim­i­lar in looks to rats, al­though they can be eas­ily told apart by their furry tails, blunt rounded noses, small ears and hunch­back feed­ing pos­ture. Even if they’re not seen, the ‘plop’ made when they dive into the wa­ter is an au­di­ble clue that they’re around.

They live in bur­rows within the banks of rivers and streams but are strong swim­mers, aided by their wa­ter-re­pel­lent fur that pre­vents wa­ter log­ging, with males ca­pa­ble of cov­er­ing 130m and fe­males 70m.

Wa­ter voles eat veg­e­ta­tion such as grasses, sedges and rushes and are hunted by stoats, owls, herons, large fish, cats and foxes, and es­pe­cially Amer­i­can mink, de­scended from fur farm es­capees.

Wa­ter vole, Mar­garet Hol­land

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