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Water vole

Habitats manager Katy Freeman and Water vole project officer Anna-Marie Ford releasing a water vole (Arvicola terrestris).The water vole has a brown coat, a blunt nose, rounded body and a long hairy tail. Europe’s largest native vole, the water vole is legally protected in Britain, having undergone a long-term decline and disappearing from almost all former sites.

Name

Water vole (Arvicola amphibius)

Lifestyle

Habitat

Water voles create burrow systems in the banks of waterways. Water voles saw dramatic declines in the 70s and 80s, due to a combination of the escape of the predatory American mink, and loss of habitat.

The Forestry Commission has worked to control mink numbers and restore the all-important ‘riparian zone’ (the narrow strip of vegetation beside ponds, rivers and streams), in efforts to reverse this decline.  Read more about our work restoring water voles in Kielder here.

Breeding

Water voles will have up to five litters per year, with 3-7 young. 

Diet

Water voles feed on more over 200 different types of reeds, grasses, rushes, herbs, shrubs and trees.

Threats

The average lifespan of a water vole is 5 months.

As well as habitat loss, water voles have lots of predators, including large fish, mink, stoats, weasels, foxes, badgers, buzzards, kestrels and owls.

Identification

  • Yellow-brown to deep-brown coat
  • Blunt muzzle
  • Small ears
  • Furry tail

'Ratty' from the popular children's story was in fact a water vole! Water voles are often misidentified as rats.

Last updated: 3rd August 2017

Vital statistics

Length: 12-20cm long, with a tail of 7-11cm.
Weight: Adult approx 320 grams
Droppings: In spring and autumn droppings are 5-190mm long, found in piles of 5-100 in shallow water. In winter these are usually more dispersed.

Useful sites

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.