Species Action Plans

Water vole

Current status


The water vole ( Arvicola terrestris ) is found throughout Britain but the population has suffered a long term decline since 1900. There has been a period of accelerated loss since the 1980s; a national survey in 1989-90 failed to find voles in 67% of the sites where they were previously recorded and this trend is likely to continue. The stronghold is generally in the south and east of Britain, with populations in the north and west scarce and fragmented.

The water vole was once common along vegetated river banks, canals, ditches, lakes and ponds. Water voles are herbivores, feeding on the lush stems and leaves of waterside plants. Over the winter they survive on a diet of the roots and bark of woody species such as willow, as well as rhizomes, bulbs and roots of herbaceous plants. In autumn they will eat berries and fruits.


There is a healthy population of water voles in east Yorkshire. The population in West Yorkshire is currently under threat from both habitat loss and predation by mink. In comparison the water vole population of Rotherham in South Yorkshire has not been affected by such predation and are more numerous in this area.

West Yorkshire Ecology have more water vole records for the east of West Yorkshire but this may reflect the amount of survey work carried out in Leeds and Wakefield rather than the true status of the population.


A few years ago, mink were set free from mink farms and have established themselves throughout Calderdale’s watercourses. Water voles have been reported from Cromwell Bottom, Rochdale Canal, Hebden Water, Warland Weir and Walsden Water in recent years. Recent records of water voles from upland parts of the Peak District and Kirklees suggest that water voles are under-recorded in upland parts of Calderdale.

Outline map of Calderdale showing locations of habitats of water vole

Current factors causing loss or decline

Current action

Legal status

The water vole is currently protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct any place or structure which water voles use for shelter or protection or to disturb them while using such a place.


1. Policy and LegislationLead PartnerOther partners
Uphold the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), Section 9(4) in respect of the protection of water volesEACMBC (CAFU), CMBC (DC), EN, WYE, WYP
Consider the impact on water voles when assessing planning applicationsCMBC (DC)CMBC (CAFU), EA
Take opportunities through the planning system to restore or create water vole habitats. Explore possibilities of long term management agreementsCMBC (DC)CMBC (CAFU), EA
Identify and designate key colonies as SEGIsWYECMBC (CAFU), CMBC (DP), YWT
Promote wider awareness of the MAFF ‘Code of Good Agricultural Practise for Protection of Water’DEFRA / RDSFWAG, EA
2. Site safeguard and managementLead PartnerOther partners
Include the needs of water voles in the management of SSSIs or other designated wildlife sitesENCMBC (CAFU), BW, CLA, NFU
Avoid damage of existing or potential water vole habitat by development, drainage or maintenance work such as culverting, channelisation, sheet piling or other hard bank protection worksEABW, CMBC (CAFU,DC), WYE
Explore opportunities for creating suitable habitats under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and planning gain for restoring watercourses to a more natural structureDEFRA / RDSFWAG, CMBC (CAFU), EA, CLA, NFU, YWT
Produce management briefs for key colonies, to include measures to protect and expand the population.CMBC (CAFU)EA, EN, HSS, UCWN, WYE, YWT
3. Species Management and ProtectionLead PartnerOther partners
Establish the effects of mink predation and encourage their control where appropriateEACMBC (CAFU), YWT
Discourage the illegal use of rodenticides and herbicides where water voles would be affectedDEFRAEA, YWT
Take opportunities to enhance / create water vole habitats near to existing coloniesEACMBC (CAFU), BW, YWT
Seek funding to carry out conservation work and habitat creationCMBC (CAFU)All partners
4. AdvisoryLead PartnerOther partners
Promote the benefits of watercourse buffer strips to landowners and managers, including their value as water vole habitatFWAGEN, EA, CMBC (CAFU), YWT
Provide advice to relevant authorities and owners on conservation of the speciesEACMBC (CAFU), EN, FWAG, HSS, UCWN, YWT
5. Research and MonitoringLead PartnerOther partners
Conduct surveys to establish the distribution of both the water vole and mink and identify key populations of water voles for conservationWYEEA, EN, CMBC (CAFU), HSS, UCWN, TNHS
Pass information gathered from surveying and monitoring to the NBNWYECMBC (CAFU)
6. RegionalLead PartnerOther partners
Work with neighbouring local authorities and regional partners to improve opportunities for joint workingEABW, CMBC (CAFU), EN, WYE, YWT
7. Communication and publicityLead PartnerOther partners
Promote the water vole through the local press, leaflets and displays. Stress the difference between water voles and rats and the effects of inappropriate works and human disturbance on river banksCMBC (CAFU)ATC, EA, EN, YWT, HSS, TNHS, UCWN
Raise awareness of the damage caused by mink to water voles and other wildlifeCMBC (CAFU)EN, FWAG, WYE, YWT

Key to abbreviations
ATCAlternative Technology Centre
BAPBiodiversity Action Plan
BWBritish Waterways
CLACounty Landowners and Business Association
CMBC (CAFU)Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (Countryside and Forestry Unit)
CMBC (DC)Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (Development Control)
CMBC (DP)Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (Development and Policy)
DEFRADepartment of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
EAEnvironment Agency
ENEnglish Nature
FCForestry Commission
FWAGFarming and Wildlife Advisory Group
HSSHalifax Scientific Society
NFUNational Farmers Union
RDSRural Development Service
TNHSTodmorden Natural History Society
UCWNUpper Calderdale Wildlife Network
WYEWest Yorkshire Ecology
WYPWest Yorkshire Police
YWTYorkshire Wildlife Trust

Last Updated: 30/09/2016