Thursday, 8 October 2009

Water voles 2009

As the weather starts to take a turn for the worse and the days become shorter, it seems a good opportunity to review my water vole sightings for a year. Although water voles don't hibernate they do spend most of the winter in their burrows, so the chance of future sightings this year are unlikely.

I've used Google maps to record the sightings – yellow markings are obvious feeding signs and blue ones of actual sightings

These have been converted to Ordnance Survey grid references using a combination of Google Earth and various web sites and passed to the local wildlife trust who do annual water vole surveys.

The river Ock & Ock Meadow
The map shows a strong colony along the river Ock, from New Cut Mill at the bottom to a clump of trees further up. In fact water voles were so common along there during the spring and summer I stopped recording the sightings.

View Water Voles in the River Ock - Abingdon, 2009 in a larger map

Where possible, I have studied either side of this colony, but have seen no signs of water vole activity – probably because the trees are preventing suitable habitat from forming, but this may form a natural barrier, along with the weirs up and down stream for any predators.

I have also seen one water vole in the drainage ditch running through the meadow, and it's recorded on film on this post.

Since I took this film, I have not seen any water voles along this area.

Further along the ditch, there are definite signs of water vole feeding, as discussed in this post:

However, I spent many hours along this stretch and never did have any sightings. But it is far enough from the river to be considered a separate colony

I have seen feeding signs along the stream that runs to the north of the meadow, but the undergrowth presented problems in finding more signs of feeding or sightings.

North Abingdon

Two surprise water vole sightings:

View Water Voles in the River Ock - Abingdon, 2009 in a larger map

One along Radley Brook, where I saw my first ever water vole but had concluded the colony was no longer present. So I was very happy to be proved wrong, I have also recorded the feeding signs I saw there at the same time:

And one outside the leisure centre, where we were gathering for a evening of Himalayan Balsam clearing. This is probably linked to a known colony in the nearby Abbey Fishponds nature reserve

It's probably not accurate to describe Abingdon as a 'water vole hotspot', but there does seem to be a variety of colonies in the area and we are fortunate to share our town with this endearing - if declining creature.
DIY, work and injuries aside, I hope to spend some of 2010 exploring the other streams and ditches in the area. Probably in spring and early summer, as one thing I learnt this year is the rapid growth along the banks can make water vole spotting very hard.


  1. Well done Richard in compiling these records.
    They may be very useful in helping to conserve these wetland areas.


  2. Brillant record-keeping. Are you passing the info on to your local Wildlife Trust and to the council (eg planning depts, pest control, parks and grounds maintenance)? I wonder whether you could instigate some habitat improvement to extend some of the colonies, too? Maybe suggest this to the WT.

    Well done, anyway. I love your blog.

  3. Thanks David,
    It's good to know that what started as a hobby may be of use to others.

  4. Thanks Kate, as your blog is an inspiration for mine I'm really pleased you like it.
    You raise some good questions; these results have been passed to the Berks Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust who have a water vole officer. But I have not passed it on to the council.
    As for extending habitat, it's unlikely a move to increase the habitat on the river would be popular as it would involve tree felling. But I think a thorough survey on the meadow (and the surrounding streams) would be of use. I have spoken to David (previous commenter) about the management of the meadow and maybe a strong colony in the meadow could affect future plans although ownership and management is a quite complex issue.
    I also wonder if the meadow is a stronghold for water voles during the winter floods.