Saturday, 30 August 2008

Training Day

Rosemary finds some feeding

Smashing day in Tilstock training up new water vole surveyors. We spent the morning indoors, with Malcolm and Anne Monie looking at how to spot field signs and ways to map and to record them, plus I did a brief spot on mink rafts.
Then after lunch we went out to Steel Heath and did some survey work there. Happily we were able to tick off pretty much all the signs we'd been discussing - prints, feeding, trackways, burrows and latrines. There was the usual field/water vole overlap, but much of it was positively water vole.
Thanks to Clive Dean and Shropshire County Council Countryside Service for organizing the day. Because this course was so over-subscribed, there'll be another training day in the Spring.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Look again!

In an absolute nothing of a ditch, in a field near Grocontinental, water voles are obviously thriving: this despite the rubbish in there, and the fact the ditch doesn't seem to be part of a continuous watercourse. The latrine directly above is fresh (you can tell because of the greenish colour), and the top ones on the slabs of polystyrene show evidence of trampling, which is a territorial behaviour.
It goes to show how an area can, at a casual glance, look like a filthy hole, but in fact be a really important little environment - in this case a refuge for Britain's most threatened mammal. Council planners, take note!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Voles where I've not seen them before

The bridge over the ditch just before Dobson's (canal) Bridge

Excellent habitat due to good fencing.

Just-about-visible vole.

A nice feeding station, with some droppings towards the bottom edge.

Tell-tale cuts.

If you enlarge the photo above by clicking, you should see several stalks cut off at an angle.

This (above) is what happens if you don't check your rafts regularly enough. I usually go down every 7-14 days - the more often you can look, the better - but with being on holiday I missed a week. The result's a confusion of prints that aren't really readable, though I think I can see some water vole and some brown rat in there.
Plenty of water vole feeding going on all along the top section; less lower down, towards the marina, but no sign at all of any mink.
Then, on the way back home I stopped by the stream just before Dobson's Bridge, and saw a vole pretty much straight away. The farmer who owns the field by this brook has helpfully set his fence well back so there's a good margin of unpoached, untouched bank, and it looks to me like a place that's teeming with wildlife.

Friday, 22 August 2008

The famous Cromford Voles

This kerb edging along the canal looks less than ideal, but the water voles simply
burrow around it.

There are burrows all along the top of the bank

Little grebe chick

Moorhen chicks

Drove over to Cromford in Derbyshire today to take a look at the voles who got their own (short) tv show a few years back. There was someone already filming when I got there with what looked like a professional rig, so I just hung back and used extreme zoom, which is possibly why my vole's not entirely in focus. I did get a very good long look, though; this was a juvenile, about the size of a golden hamster.
It's a really beautiful area. Thanks to Shirl for directions!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Three voles!

Lots of activity tonight between 8 and 8.15 pm: three voles fighting (or mating) and swimming up and down. It's so hard to get clear photos, though.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Another useless photo

...except it's not, in terms of identification and record-keeping. I actually saw two voles tonight, which was a bit of a feat as the reeds are so lush they've bent over and formed a kind of tunnel in places.

The admin side of voling

Last year the Whitchurch Water Vole Group organized a seminar for council pest controllers, planning officers and some local landowners to keep them informed about where the water vole colonies were sited and how best to preserve them. It was a really successful day, and we made several great contacts.
This kind of networking and awareness-raising isn't as exciting as field work, but I can't overestimate its importance. No matter how passionate a particular wildlife group may be, they might find their efforts undone overnight if certain important parties aren't kept in the loop.
Today, for instance, I spent several hours emailing and phoning round to ask about some strimming which had been done on one of the banks while I was away last week. Early last year, if you remember, both banks were scarrified all the way along just as the voles were coming out to breed, and almost all their cover and food was removed: the problem was made worse because I couldn't find out which body had done the work and so I wasn't able to prevent a second swathe being stripped. Therefore, when I saw the small patch of strimmed nettles last night I thought I'd better check there was no more drastic work to come.
NSDC had already told me this patch wasn't theirs, so I emailed Whitchurch Town Council yesterday evening and I'm delighted to say Peter Martin answered by 9.30 this morning, saying it wasn't their land either. Next I called the Environment Agency, and they checked with their maintenance department and got back to me saying that although the Staggs Brook is deemed a "critical water course" and so falls under their care, they didn't touch the bank vegetation any more (unless there was a flooding issue) specifically because of protecting the voles.
So I called Shropshire County Council, and they were also extremely helpful, eventually putting me through to Ron Dryden of Property Maintenance. He got in touch straight away with his contractors, and he's since spoken to them about the presence of water voles, the need to avoid disturbing burrows or spraying chemicals near the banks.
It can be hard work tracking down who's responsible for a particular water course (and in our case, Welsh Water also have an interest), but it's worth persisting. The more organizations who know about the voles, the better chance we have of maintaining those fragile colonies.
So a big thank you to all the people I pestered this morning. Result!

Saturday, 16 August 2008


Post(card) from Norfolk

Common blues, a peacock, and, bottom, some sort of fritillary

Male common darter



Unidentified raptor

Grey seals
Been away on holiday. It's lovely to discover the wildlife in a new area (Horsey and Wroxham, mainly).

Saturday, 9 August 2008

White Lion Meadow - amazing environment

Considering this is a very small stretch of stream by a town centre car park, it's incredible how many animals and plants make it their home. I was watching a water vole crunching leaves last night, and looked below me to see this dragonfly (female Southern Hawker?) emerging from its case. Then the rabbit appeared, looking shifty. The brook is full of tiny fish!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Crawling with Water Voles

A vole's eye view of the brook - ideal habitat!

Where one burrow is sited.

An active burrow.

Some fresh and some older droppings.
Incredibly productive survey day. Rosie, Jill and I took a quick look down Edward German Drive and found feeding and burrows on the Waymills side, plus this latrine (photo above) directly opposite Griffiths Tool Hire.
Then we went, at the invitation of the landowners, to look at the section of the brook that runs by the railway line after it's passed under Station Road. I knew there were water voles in this stretch because I've seen and photographed them recently ( ). But the brook here must be stuffed with water voles. Every few paces I found feeding, and there were fresh latrines and active burrows and even footprints, all textbook evidence of a strong water vole colony.
Worryingly, developers want to build a drain right on top of a burrow - where I'm standing in the second photograph down. According to the new protection laws, though ( ) I can't see how this could be allowed. It's something I'll have to look into.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Hard to Spot

Occasionally someone chatting to me on the bridge will say, 'This vegetation needs clearing.' But I tell them, the voles need their cover to avoid being eaten.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Calling Card

I watched for an hour on Friday night and saw nothing, but I know a vole had been under the bridge that day because there were these bits of feeding underneath; I retrieved them with my extra-long litter picker. Tonight I stopped by for just ten minutes and saw a big adult water vole almost straight away. There doesn't seem to be any regular pattern to their movement, though I'm told they work on 'four hour cycles' of below/above ground activity.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Jolly Moth

Stopped by the Prees Branch canal to check the mink rafts, and found a water vole had been using it as a feeding station (those two manky old lengths of reed laid at an angle on the roof). There was also a footprint inside, which looked like water vole - very splayed out.
All along the canal I found odd bits of feeding, though not the huge feed stations there were in spring. There was quite a lot round this miniature island, third photo down.
Plenty of butterflies like this speckled wood, and this gorgeous large emerald moth (top picture).