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