The water vole is the largest of the British voles. They inhabit the banks of lowland ditches, rivers, stream and canals.  Populations can also be found around ponds and lakes.  Favoured sites tend to be slow-flowing watercourses which do not show drastic fluctuations in water levels.  These sites are generally less than three metres wide, approximately one metre in depth, with well-vegetated, steeply-angled banks with a good cover of marginal and emergent vegetation.  The distribution of water voles along water courses, even in areas of good habitat can be patchy due to seasonal variations in food availability and population density.


Surveys involve carrying out detailed searches for water vole field signs including burrows, droppings, latrines, feeding remains, lawns and footprints. Water voles are most active above ground between April and September and surveys are best conducted during this period during dry weather.


Water voles are listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended).  Those species listed on Schedule 5 are protected under Part 1, Section 9, which refers to the protection of certain wild animals. Under Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended) if any person –

  • intentionally kills, injures or takes any wild animal included in Schedule 5;
  • has in his possession or control any live or dead wild animal included in Schedule 5 or any part of, or anything derived from such an animal;
  • intentionally or recklessly damages or destroys, or obstructs access to, any structure or place which any wild animal included in Schedule 5 uses for shelter or protection;
  • disturbs any such animal included in Schedule 5 while it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for that purpose;
  • sells, offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild animal included in Schedule 5, or any part of, or anything derived from, such an animal; or,
  • publishes or causes to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that he buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell, any of those things,
  • he shall be guilty of an offence.
Water Vole
Water Vole Habitat
Water Vole Print

Water voles and development

Water vole surveys may be required where development proposals have potential to impact upon potentially suitable habitat such as rivers, canals or ditches (or adjacent these habitats). If water voles are found to be associated with a proposed development site, a mitigation strategy to protect them will need to be submitted to the local planning authority. A CES ecologist will work with the design team to develop the most suitable mitigation and compensation strategy, whether that be amending the layout of a site to lessen the potential impact or developing a translocation scheme to move water voles to an alternative site.

Natural England (NE) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) issue licences for the translocation of water voles, when there is no alternative, for the purpose of conservation.  Certain criteria must be met before a licence can be issued to enable otherwise prohibited works to proceed. 

Please contact us to discuss your specific project or to request a quotation for conducting a water vole survey.

Useful information:

Natural England – Water voles and Development

Natural Resources Wales – Water voles

Bickley Hall Farm, Bickley, Malpas, Cheshire, SY14 8EF

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