News article created on 30 October 2014

Saving the water vole

Water voles are not just cute. They’re highly skilled at swimming, gardening and preening.

Animation: Lucy Vigrass
Words: Abigail Whyte

The water vole is a good gardener
This fast-declining mammal excavates extensive burrow systems into the banks, with multiple entrances just below the surface of the water. You’ll see lawns of closely cropped grass, occasionally with piles of chopped food around the entrances. You might also see runways through riverside vegetation, especially in autumn when they carry food to the burrows for winter.

They’ve got a star-shaped footprint
Water voles are built for digging. They use long claws and their teeth to dig burrows, using their feet to kick out the spoil. Their forefeet leave the distinctive star-shaped footprint.

They know how to make a smokescreen
Voles are skilled at diving and swimming, not least because of the slight webbing between their toes. They submerge rather than swim on the surface and kick up water and silt with its hind legs to keep a muddy curtain between themselves and predators.

Water voles keep the bathroom clean
These creatures leave droppings in the same place over and over again, marking territory with their canal-side latrine. This is their favourite place to scratch their large scent glands during the breeding season, spreading their scent and marking their territory.

Hunger rules
Water voles need to eat 80% of their body weight each day so they spend a lot of time on their haunches, munching. After swimming they often sit upright on the bankside, feeding on water plants or preening their faces.

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