Not to be confused with its widespread cousin, the rat, the water vole is the largest British vole and one of our most endangered species. We have been working to highlight the vole's decline and boost populations for a number of years.
Water voles are found in much of Europe, east Siberia and Mongolia. They prefer lowland areas and are not often sighted in Scotland. Water voles spend most of their time within two metres of their burrows and tend to occur in rural areas rich in dense vegetation.
This affords the voles some protection from the searching eyes of their predators, mainly mink, which have contributed to the water vole's decline. Slow-flowing, deep water such as canals, lakes and streams suit the voles, who do not have the webbed feet of most water-dwelling animals.
Water voles burrow into steep canal or riverside banks to form a complicated system of underground tunnels and nesting chambers. Intelligent voles construct their burrows on several levels to minimise the risk of flooding, and at least one entrance will be below the water level for a fast escape if necessary.
If you're keen to spot a water vole, look out for closely grazed 'lawn' areas, often covered with neat piles of chopped grass, which are often seen around burrow entrances. Voles have slow, doggy-paddle style swimming strokes, which are a treasured sight on our canals and rivers.
Protecting vole habitat
We are always mindful of potential water vole habitat when carrying out works along our canals and rivers. Wherever possible we incorporate vole-friendly banking into our routine works to expand the amount of habitat available to this well-loved waterway creature.