Skip to main content

The charity making life better by water

Saving the water vole on our canals

The beautiful, elusive water vole was once a common sight in our rivers and canals. Over the past few decades however, numbers of this much-loved mammal have plummeted, due to loss of habitat and predation by the American mink. Since the 1970s, water vole populations have fallen by an alarming 90%*. Now our ecologists are helping to create new homes by water for the most endangered mammal in Britain.

A vole looks out from the bankside on a canal

Alongside mink control, creating new water vole habitat is one of the most effective ways we can help support the recovery of their population.

Water voles live in colonies in burrows dug out of the soft banks of rivers, streams and canals, with territories often ranging as far as 300 metres. But as soft banks like these have disappeared, vital feeding and mating grounds are becoming fragmented and degraded.

That's why in the West Midlands our ecologist, Chloe Walker is spearheading a new conservation project aiming to turn the situation around. Her work was recently highlighted by a report towards the end of this episode of the BBC's Countryfile.

Chloe explains, “For a healthy population, water voles need to be able to spread freely, and look for new sources of food and new mates. They need to be able to travel across the landscape. Unfortunately, with dwindling habitats, this has become increasingly difficult.”

While certain parts of our network are ideal for water voles, on some stretches, particularly in our towns and cities, it's a different story. Urban canals tend to be lined with concrete or steel, often with narrow towpaths and minimal greenery. Lean pickings for our elusive friend.

Now Chloe and her team are employing an innovative new solution to bring water voles back to our waterways. As she explains, “One really big thing we can do to help them is to install coir rolls, which are essentially long rolls of planting material that we can place along the hard-edge banks to create an instant habitat.”

These pre-planted coir rolls provide water voles with the perfect conditions, with sheltered burrowing sites and lush vegetation where they can forage and hide from predators. Although still in its infancy, Chloe is confident the project will be a big success. It can help create important new habitat and connect water vole habitats across our network. The first step to helping save this remarkable rodent.

“I think they're just the most charming little animals,” Chloe says. “If you've ever been lucky enough to see them interacting in their normal habitat, munching away on the vegetation, there's just something magical about them you can't really quite describe.”

Water voles are an integral part of our ecosystem, and their burrowing, feeding, and hiding places provide the conditions for other animal and plant life to flourish. Happily, Chloe's coir rolls do a similar job. They are planted with water plants that help fish and amphibians feed and shelter among their water roots, or flowering plants that attract dragonflies, damselflies, bees, and butterflies. They also offer floating nesting sites for swans, ducks, moorhens and coots, or wonderful hunting perches for herons.

With your ongoing help and support, we can continue to fund vital conservation projects like this one, safeguarding our most endangered species and providing havens for wildlife across our network.

Join our vole patrol

Are you a keen boater, canoer, paddleboarder or hiker? Volunteer to join Chloe's ‘vole patrol' and you could help us look for tell-tale signs of water vole activity along our banks and verges, so we can continue to improve their habitat.

*PTES, 2017

Last Edited: 30 November 2022

photo of a location on the canals
newsletter logo

Stay connected

Sign up to our monthly newsletter and be the first to hear about campaigns, upcoming events and fundraising inspiration