Endangered voles mistaken for rats

LIKE Ratty in Wind in the Willows water voles are being mistaken for rats.But although the children's story book character is just a harmless misconception, in reality experts are making fatal mistakes by poisoning the increasingly endangered water vole, believing they are rats.

LIKE Ratty in Wind in the Willows water voles are being mistaken for rats.

But although the children's story book character is just a harmless misconception, in reality experts are making fatal mistakes by poisoning the increasingly endangered water vole, believing they are rats.

And so Suffolk Wildlife Trust is on a mission to make people aware that the larger furry tailed, short-eared animal is different from the feared long scaly-tailed vermin.

The shy, brown, blunt nosed creatures with chubby faces are being poisoned due to the public's ignorance.

Pest-controllers mistaking them for rats are especially threatening the species and so the Wildlife Trust has launched a new initiative to educate the public to 'Know Your Vole'.

The water vole is the fastest declining mammal in the UK, but it is not only pest-controllers who are guilty of mistaking the identity of the animals, but builders and developers are also making the fatal mistake.

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Water voles have disappeared from almost 90 per cent of the UK sites they occupied 60 years ago due to the loss of their riverbank homes and being preyed on by non-native American mink.

Penny Hemphill, Suffolk Wildlife Trusts' wetland officer, said: "The Wildlife Trusts are working tirelessly to restore water vole homes along riverbanks and to combat the serious issue of indiscriminate poisoning. The key to overcoming the problem is to build awareness of the characteristics of water vole and for people to take an active part in reporting any water vole discoveries to Suffolk Wildlife Trust."

The Wildlife Trust is giving a helping hand to the water voles by improving their habitats, controlling fast flowing water, managing the vegetation around the habitat and controlling one of their predators; mink.

Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club is especially supporting their efforts, like a number of other Suffolk golf clubs, by ensuring the dyke separating the nine hole and 18 hole courses are maintained as perfect homes for water voles. Although the shy creatures are rarely seen, but sometimes heard splashing in the dyke, they are rarely noticed and live happily alongside the golfers.

To help the water voles enjoy their quiet and controlled habitat the Trust occasionally cuts back reedbeds and reduces the steep-sided ditches to shallow slopes.

The public is being urged to help the Trust in their mission by reporting any water vole sightings. Information including location, name of the nearest village, the date and the observers' contact details should be phoned in to Tracey Housley at Suffolk Wildline open 1.30-5pm every weekday.

Weblink:

www.wildlifetrust.org.uk/suffolk

Water vole factfile:

Water voles have chestnut-brown fur, short rounded ears almost hidden by fur, blunt snout and chubby face, long hair-covered tail of 10-15cm (four to six inches) and a body length of up to 20cm (eight inches).

They are typically found in rivers, canals, ditches, dykes, reedbeds, lakes and ponds.

The vegetarian animals create burrows five to eight cm (two to three inches) wide near or below the water level.

Rats burrows are slightly larger than those of voles. These are not always at the water's edge and often there is a heap of earth at the entrance.

Predators of the water vole are weasels, stoats, American mink, foxes, otters, rats, pike, herons, barn owls and other birds of prey.

Water voles are protected, as it is illegal to intentionally disturb, damage or obstruct access to a place which water voles are using for shelter or protection.

Source: The Wildlife Trust

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