On a recent visit to Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve we noticed something amazing – water voles have colonised the reserve! These secretive creatures had been previously un-recorded on the site, but our survey showed they are aplenty, with more than 25 feeding stations, around the same number of latrines and at least 4 burrows along the ditch.
Since the 1970s water voles have suffered a 90% decline, with only around 200,000 remaining in the UK. This has been a result of habitat loss and the accidental release of American mink, a voracious predator of water voles. But things are looking up. Together we have created many huge areas of wetland perfect for these much loved creatures, and in many cases they are gaining in numbers.
As water voles are so secretive, the best way to look for them is actually to look for their signs – feeding stations, latrines and burrows. Water voles like large areas of wetland with interconnected ditches with steep, vegetated sides. They feed in a few select places along the waters edge, leaving behind piles of overlapping reed, sedge and grass stems cut off at a characteristic 45 degree angle. They also use regular latrines, a short distance from feeding stations and burrows, which they use to mark out their territory.
Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve is a relatively new reserve built to replace habitat lost during the construction of the container port at Stanford-le-Hope. Together with DP World we’ve created thousands of homes for nature for the likes of passage and wintering waders and wildfowl on the mudflats, a huge range of invertebrates such as crickets and grasshoppers in the wildflower meadow, and now it’s great to see we’ve given water voles a home too.
Water Vole - by David Lee
Can you see the resemblance between the water vole seen here and Ratty from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows? Keep your eyes peeled when you’re next walking around RSPB West Canvey Marshes – you may be lucky enough to see Ratty feeding on our feeding platform in the ditch behind the playground. You’re less likely to see Mr Toad driving along in his car...
Gareth Brookfield - Assistant Warden, South Essex