Once a familiar sight, water voles are now hard to come by. A combination of habitat loss and attacks from invasive species like the American mink have resulted in a 97% decline in population in the last 50+ years.
However, our canals can offer places for them to eat, sleep and breed and we're working hard to create even more sheltered nesting sites through installing floating reedbeds along the network.
Next time you're along the towpath, why not use our top tips to increase your chances of spotting these endearing creatures?
1. Know your water vole from your rat
Often mistaken for rats, water voles have distinguishing features that set it apart – the most obvious of which is their tail length. A water vole's tail is about half its body length and often remains out of sight, whereas a rat's is about as long as its body.
Water voles also have a more rounded face and small ears, mostly hidden by fur. This is in complete contrast to a rat, which has a pointed face and noticeable ears.
2. Visit the canal during the day
Water voles are active during the day, when they spend most of their waking hours eating out in the open. They may also be busy collecting grasses and reeds to take back to their burrow to stock their shelves for the colder months.
3. Aim for Spring to early Autumn
Visiting our canals between April and September can increase your chances of seeing a water vole, because the vegetation along the canal banks is shorter. Breeding season also occurs during these months, with a female birthing between five and six litters of around three to five pups every year.