A water vole survey should be carried out prior to any development which has the potential to disturb water voles or affect their habitats in any way.
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Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris)
The water vole is the largest of the British voles. Water voles have a short hair-covered tail, a blunt rounded nose, and a small chubby face with small ears. They have a chestnut brown coat which traps air and provides insulation when swimming. Water voles are herbivores and eat a variety of waterside vegetation; eating 80 percent of their own body weight every day.
During the breeding season the boundaries of each females range are marked with a latrine, usually a pile or piles of flattened droppings where scent marking occurs. A female will have between 1 and 5 litters of pups between April and September.
Water voles can be found throughout Britain but they are found mostly to lowland areas close to water. They live in burrows with an underground entrance which provides a safe entrance to the water. The burrow system will usually have several horizontal layers to prevent flooding. The above ground entrance sometimes has a lawn of grass around the hole which has been eaten by the water vole.
The water vole was once a very familiar mammal of the British countryside. Survey data suggests that the species has undergone one of the steepest and most serious declines of any British mammal. A national survey carried out between 1996 and 1998 showed that water voles had been lost from ninety four percent of sites. Some of the main causes of this are:
• Loss and fragmentation of waterside habitats due to riverbank modification, drainage and flood defence works
• Disturbance of riparian habitats
• Predation by mink which can hunt water vole in the water, on land and even in the burrow sysytem
• Pollution of watercourses and poisoning by rodenticides