Did you know that over the last century the water vole has experienced the most severe decline of any wild mammal in the UK?
In 2015, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) launched the first National Water Vole Monitoring Programme (NWVMP). Following two successful years, this May, PTES is once again calling for existing volunteers and new recruits to survey sites for signs and sightings of water voles, to find out how populations are faring across the UK.
Water voles were once a common sight along UK riverbanks and waterways, but during the 20th century their populations experienced a dramatic decline due to the intensification of agriculture, loss and fragmentation of habitat, pollution of watercourses and more recently predation by non-native American mink. The impact of mink has been particularly devastating – between 1989 and 1998 the water vole population crashed by almost 90%. Since then conservation groups have been working hard to improve habitats and control mink numbers, to try and save the much-loved water vole, but it’s important to monitor how populations have responded and what the current national picture is. By keeping a closer eye on water voles, PTES can respond quickly if a crisis happens in the future.
You can see data from the first National Water Vole Monitoring Programme on the NBN Atlas
Surveyors – we need you!
Last year, PTES received data from 404 sites across England, Scotland and Wales, of which 185 had water vole signs present (46%). The distribution of positive sites was skewed towards Scotland, partly due to the large number of sites surveyed there, but encouragingly there were occupied sites across the UK from Cornwall to the Highlands. While this is good news, PTES is looking for more volunteers to survey sites this year to ensure all regions have enough sites being surveyed to get a clear picture of water vole numbers across the UK. In particular, more surveyors are needed to take part in north east England, southern Scotland, parts of Wales and the West Midlands.
Volunteers are asked to survey one of the nearly 900 pre-selected sites across the UK, recording all sightings and signs of water voles along a 500m length of riverbank during May. Sites that are already being surveyed can also be registered with the programme. Though no prior experience is required, volunteers will need to learn how to identify water vole field signs.
Emily Thomas, Key Species Monitoring and Data Officer at PTES explains: “We’ve had a fantastic response to the NWVMP over the last two years and the data collected so far is invaluable. With the help of volunteers, we will continue building a robust dataset which will be used to monitor year on year trends in the water vole population, to establish any further changes and to help guide future conservation efforts”
Find out more
To find out more, or to take part in PTES’ 2017 National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, visit the PTES website.