Tuesday 21st April 2015

Life has been rough for the water vole over the past seven decades, according to experts at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. A combination of riverside habitat loss and the degradation and fragmentation of those that remain, along with attacks by American minks that escaped from fur farms and, more recently, the deaths of countless young as a result of summer flooding, has come close to wiping one of our much‐loved native species, known to many as the companionable Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

Fortunately for Ratty, GWT is hitting back with a series of works that set out to give this shy mammal a fighting chance of survival, thanks to securing £31,000 from the SITA Trust, through the Landfill Communities Fund, for its Water Voles on the River Coln project.


  • Hearing a sudden ‘plop’ is probably the nearest that most of us will ever get to a water vole as it drops into water to escape from approaching predators.
  • It lives on strips of land along rivers, often marking the boundaries of its territory with small heaps of droppings, and breeds and nests in burrows in the banks.
  • The water vole, or Arvicola terrestris as it’s known in Latin, has a dark brown or black furry body that measures between 14 to 22cm in length, along with a chubby face and a long tail.
  • It can be mistaken for a rat but can easily be told apart through its small ears, which are hidden

This additional funding means that GWT will be able to work in partnership with farmers, landowners and communities to restore, recreate and reconnect habitats on the river for the benefit of wildlife and people. The project will ensure a stretch of at least 12 kilometres of good quality habitat for water voles
and other wildlife between Bibury and Fairford on the River Coln.

As part of the project GWT will be using a traditional method of riverbank management and will be installing hazel faggots to stabilise and improve the structure of riverbanks. The faggots are bundles of hazel branches; the leftovers from coppicing at GWT’s Lower Woods and Siccaridge Wood nature reserves.

“It is a great way to recycle the material we generate from our coppicing work at Siccaridge Wood nature reserve. It’s great to know that the coppicing work is not only benefiting the dormice in the wood, but water voles on the river Coln. An amazing 350 hazel faggots have been made using wood from our reserves with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers.” Said Pete Bradshaw,
Stroud Area nature reserves manager.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s living landscapes manager Richard Spyvee says, “It’s a crucial time for the future of the water vole, and there are encouraging signs that suggest that all is not lost for this tiny mammal.”
“The good news is that water voles are prolific breeders: if we get it right when it comes to the environment, as we have done over the past few years on the River Windrush, then we will see numbers increase quite quickly.”