Whilst it may resemble a rat (even being dubbed the “water rat” or “ratty”), the water vole has fur on its tail, paws and ears, and has a rounder nose than its distant cousin. They are much bigger than other voles but smaller than brown rats. The UK population of water voles has fallen from 8 million post-1960 to below 1 million in 1998, in part due to the introduction of the non-native American mink into British waterways.
The water vole lives along rivers, streams and ditches, around ponds and lakes, and in marshes, reedbeds and areas of wet moorland. Look out for the signs of water voles, such as burrows in the riverbank, often with a nibbled ‘lawn’ of grass around the entrance.
Water voles like to sit and eat in the same place, so piles of nibbled grass and stems may be found by the water’s edge, showing a distinctive 45 degree, angled-cut at the ends. ‘Latrines’ of rounded, cigar-shaped droppings may also be spotted. Water voles start to breed in spring, having three to four litters a year of up to five young.
- Length: 20cm plus a tail of 11cm
- Weight: 80-180g
- Average lifespan: 1.5 years
Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, and classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Widespread, found everywhere except for the Channel Island, the Isles of Scilly, Scottish islands, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
When to see
Jan – Dec
- The Water Vole is famously known as ‘Ratty’ in Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s tale, The Wind in the Willows. Despite being sometimes referred to as a ‘water rat’, there is no such thing – there are Brown Rats, Black Rats and Water Voles.