Stour Water Vole Project

During 2011, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust were awarded funding through the Vision for Stour Group of Stratford-on-Avon District Council to deliver the Stour Water Vole Project.

The aims of the project were to:

  • Train local volunteers in surveying.
  • Identify locations and survey the River Stour (a tributary of the River Avon in the south of the county) and its tributaries in the Shipston Vision Area for water voles & other wetland mammals.
  • Identify key areas for habitat enhancement.
  • Develop a mink monitoring programme.
  • Ensure the project was sustainable.

A huge thank you to the Vision for Stour Group of Stratford-on-Avon District Council and to all of the volunteers and landowners that made the project possible. Surveys will continue over the coming years to keep a close eye on the water vole population. They will be undertaken by local volunteers using the skills learnt through the project, supported by the Trust. Landowners across the area are still encouraged to help protect water voles and report any sightings of wetland mammals to the Trust.

For more information on the project or how to help water voles, please contact Tim Precious, Wetland Project Officer on 07818 579306
 

Surveying

The Trust teamed up with volunteers from the newly-formed Stour Valley Wildlife Action Group and members of the local community. Volunteers were initially trained in how to survey for otters, water voles and the water vole’s biggest threat, the non-native American mink. This involved searching for field signs such as feed remains, footprints and droppings (otter droppings or ‘spraint’ is actually quite inoffensive and smells somewhat like fishy jasmine tea!). They were then split into groups led by an experienced surveyor and given locations across the Stour Valley to survey. Over 30 locations were surveyed, from small ditches to the main river; these were chosen in conjunction with landowners and after reviewing historical water vole positive sites and where habitat looked suitable for water voles.

An overview of the survey results can be downloaded here – the survey showed otters and mink to be distributed across the Valley, both on the main River Stour and its tributaries. Unfortunately, water voles were no longer present on the main River Stour or at other sites where they were about 10 years ago – this is most likely due to predation by mink and damage to habitat along waterways and ditches. On a more positive note, our surveys showed water voles to be present in small ditches and tributaries of the Avon around the villages of Long Marston and Lower Quinton, and separate surveys conducted by an ecological consultant showed they to be a strong colony at the Long Marston (former MOD) storage depot nearby.

Mink monitoring and habitat management page:

In response to the survey results, the project worked with an ecological consultant at the storage depot, as well as working with landowners in the wider countryside around this area to roll out a mink monitoring and control programme in order to protect this highly important and only remaining water vole stronghold in south Warwickshire.

During surveying, a number of locations were identified where wetland enhancement and mink monitoring could occur, and the Trust worked with landowners to provide advice and management plans where appropriate.

A leaflet aimed at landowners was also designed and produced – this provides information on water vole ecology, their main threats and how people can help this endangered species. The leaflet can be downloaded here.

Otter holts

Three locations were also identified across the Stour Valley to install otter holts. Otters (as well as water voles) are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 [amended] in the UK following their near extinction in the 1970s. Today, with a ban on hunting, more environmentally-friendly farming practices and improved river water quality, their numbers are slowly increasing. Otters are nocturnal mammals that live along waterways. They have large territory sizes of up to 40km, meaning that there will only ever be a handful of individuals present on a river catchment.

Otters prefer tree-lined rivers and streams, usually using the roots and hollows of old riverbank trees as places to live. As much of this natural habitat has been lost over past decades, artificial otter holts can help to give this native animal a helping hand, providing them with somewhere safe to rest.

Volunteers worked tirelessly to construct the holts (which were made out of recycled plastic); they were then installed in remote locations lacking natural cover, firmly fixed down and camouflaged, meaning that they should last for many years to come. The holts have two entrances to avoid confrontation if an inquisitive visitor enters, and two rooms so that the holts are more like a home - a place to live and perhaps even bring up young. It is hoped that the presence of otters will also help to reduce the population of mink in the area.

Downloads

FilenameFile size
Stour Valley Water Vole Leaflet365.75 KB
Stour Valley Water Vole Project Survey Results Map1.75 MB