A blog written by Anna Cooper, Young Ambassador of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust

Wiltshire’s rivers are home to a plethora of aquatic species, including the semi-aquatic water vole.

Water voleCredit: Steve Deeley

Water voles (Arvicola amphibius) are a protected species of rodent in the UK. They are distinguishable by their brown fur, short nose, small, rounded ears and fluffy tail. They are bigger than other vole species present in the UK and can be distinguished between rats which have long, scaly tails. Water vole populations across the UK have been declining massively over recent years, mainly due to the invasion of American mink and changes to our waterways.

Water vole in a burrowCredit: Ken Elborne

Water voles build their home in burrows, which they dig into the banks of the rivers. With the increase of urban development, there has been an increased destruction of natural river banks and other river banks have been reinforced with man-made materials including metal and concrete. Other factors leading to the reduction of river quality include dredging, the clearing of vegetation, and the increased use and pollution of rivers by livestock and boats. All of these factors have contributed to the decline and fragmentation of their habitat and availability of food sources.

Anthropogenic pollution of rivers is also a major issue. There is the contamination of rivers by toxic pollutants, which are used and disposed of incorrectly by industry and also by households. And the use of chemical fertilisers in agriculture, which leads to eutrophication of rivers due to the runoff into waterways. This leads to the rivers becoming nitrogen-rich, which causes algal blooms to block essential riverine plant species from growing.

Water voles are ecosystem engineers meaning their behaviour and actions impact the availability of resources for other factors in the environment. Water voles create networks of burrows, which allow the soil to dry, and this increases the microbial activity in the soil. This regulates the availability of nitrogen, which is a vital component for supporting plant growth. Therefore, it makes sense that we need to protect this species, whose actions increase the diversity and abundance of riverine plant and animal life.

Find below a list of things you can do to help protect the rivers and keep the water vole population stable and flourishing.

  • Help to keep the rivers clear, by putting items in the bin or recycling them. Don’t be a litterbug! And always dispose of household chemicals and medicines correctly, rather than putting them down the sink.

Become a Water Guardian

  • Unfortunately, some people don’t follow these rules, so often local councils and community groups run river clean-ups which you can volunteer at. Always make sure you have the right equipment and always make sure you are with others near waterbodies.

Volunteer with our Water Team

  • Use less water by remembering to turn off taps when they aren’t being used and keeping shower lengths to a minimum. Also reusing any old dishwater to water the plants in your garden is always a good idea!

View our water-saving tips

  • Buy and use less plastics to prevent the ever-increasing amount of microplastics from entering the water system.

View our tips to reduce plastic use

  • Get involved in our Bay Meadows project.

Volunteer at Bay Meadows