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Conservation spotlight - Water Vole

19th Nov 2020

Conservation Serie Water Vole 3 Web

Species: Water vole


This rodent is our largest species of vole at 14-22cm long (plus tail) and weighs between 150 and 350 grammes with dark brown fur. It can be mistaken for a rat, known as a ‘water rat’ in the past, but has smaller ears and eyes and a shorter tail. In fact ‘Ratty’ from The Wind in the Willows was a water vole.

Habitat (living spaces)

Wetland, marshland and rivers. Burrows are often dug into riverbanks, with entrances above and below the water.

Status in the UK

The water vole is classified as ‘Endangered’ on the UK Red List *. The species has seen about a 90% decline in numbers in recent decades.

The main threats are loss of and changes to wetland habitats including agricultural intensification, water pollution, flooding, droughts and artificial riverbanks.

The final straw was the introduction of the non-native and invasive North American mink which preys on water voles.

Importance for nature

The water vole is an eager little ‘ecosystem engineer’ whose burrowing and grazing activities shift around soil and plant material on riverbanks, helping to spread vital nutrients and seeds. This leads to more plants of many different kinds, which in turn creates habitats for many kinds of wildlife.

Wildwood’s work

Wildwood breeds water voles with the aim of releasing healthy young to suitable habitats in the wild to boost the declining population.

We also look after and release water voles rescued from development sites. Through training courses we help teach a range of people from students to wildlife professionals about protecting and correctly handling water voles.

Since 2000 we have released many hundreds of water voles.

* The IUCN red list is an indicator list showing the conservation status of most wildlife on earth. Species can be classified as Least Concern (LC), Near Threatened (NT), Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), Critically Endangered (CR), Extinct In The Wild (EW), Extinct (EX)

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