The presence of protected species is a material consideration when a planning authority is considering a development proposal. The presence of protected species and the affect of the proposed development must be established before planning permission can be granted.
As a guide line water vole surveys should be carried out when:
• Major proposals affecting or within 50m of any watercourses or associated ponds
• Minor proposals affecting or within 5m of any watercourses or associated ponds
• Proposed development affecting any locations where water voles are known to be present
Water Vole Surveys
In April 2008 the water vole (Arvicola terrestris) became fully protected under Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Making it an offence to:
• Kill, injure or take water voles
• Intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used for shelter or protection
• Intentionally or recklessly disturb water voles whilst occupying a structure or place used for shelter or protection
An ecological record search should be carried out at the local record centre to establish any previous records of water vole sightings in the area.
Surveys should be carried out from Mid April through to September. Water voles are rarely seen and so field surveys concentrate on finding characteristic signs of water vole rather than the voles themselves.
The banks of the watercourse are examined up to 2 metres from the waters edge. The surveyors will be looking for the following field signs.
Water vole faeces are 8-12mm long and 4-5mm wide. They are cylindrical with blunt ends. They are usually green in colour and are odourless (unlike rat)
Latrine sites are used to mark boundaries and favourite spots close to burrows. Latrines often consist of a flattened mass of droppings (which have been patted down) with fresh droppings on the top.
Water voles often bring pieces of vegetation to feeding areas close to the water’s edge. The remains are left in neat piles and have a distinctive bite pattern.
Many different animals use burrows in river banks. Water vole burrows are typically wider than they are high, and usually have a diameter of 4-8cm. Well grazed areas are sometimes found close by where the water voles have eaten vegetation.
Many footprints are found along riverbanks but these are easily confused and not a reliable method of identification.
High water levels and heavy rain can destroy many of the field signs mentioned above. Surveys should ideally be timed to give the best chance of finding water vole field signs.