Water voles are Britain’s largest voles, with fully grown adults reaching lengths of 20cm (plus a 12cm tail) and weighing up to 350g.
They are charismatic little creatures with a round face, a blunt nose, a short furry tail and glossy dark brown or black fur. Water voles were popularised by the well-known character Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s ‘Wind in the Willows’, who, despite his misleading name, is not a rat but a water vole.
‘… A brown little face, with whiskers. A grave round face, with the same twinkle in its eye that had first attracted his notice. Small neat ears and thick silky hair. It was the Water Rat!’Kenneth Grahame, Wind in the Willows
Water voles need to eat up to 80% of their own body weight every day in order to stay healthy. Their diet consists of mainly grasses and waterside plants, as well as twigs, bulbs, roots and fallen fruit.
They aren’t too picky and have been recorded feeding on up to 220 different plants. Although they are described as herbivorous, a female feeding young will eat a dead water snail or fish if she comes across one, to boost her protein levels.
Sadly, water voles are one of the UK’s fastest declining mammals. Up to 90% of the population has been lost since the 1970s; part of a longer-term decline stretching back to the Middle Ages.
The reasons for this decline include habitat loss and fragmentation (their habitats being broken up into smaller, disconnected chunks). Examples of this include overgrazing and mowing of riverbanks and canalisation of streams.
What are The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales doing to help water voles in Wales?
In 2014 and 2015, we worked in partnership with Natural Resources Wales to reintroduce around 400 water voles bred from Carmarthenshire stock to Ffrwd Farm Mire, a WTSWW reedbed nature reserve in Pembrey.
Following on from several years work by NRW and the Trust to make the site and surrounding landscape as suitable for water voles as possible, this successful partnership continues, and water voles on the reserve and in the surrounding areas are thriving.