Friday, 30 March 2007

Food chain

The kind of bird that would dispatch a water vole no bother. Luckily this sparrowhawk was in my back garden, not the supermarket car park. An urban setting can be good for voles because it cuts down the number of predators.
I include the middle photo because it shows clearly the hind feet that make the distinctive starry prints. (Click for a larger view.)

Tuesday, 27 March 2007


This is one of the areas due for bank maintenance this week. The local resident pictured above asks the council men to go carefully.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

You are invited

Vole love

Two voles this evening, doing a courtship routine which consisted of repeated chasing, coupling and ignoring each other.
Malcolm Monie's had an email from Mr Sturton at NSDC letting us know of work next week to the banks further up from this section, but reassuring us it would be sympathetic. The men have been given instructions to cut to a height of 6 inches so as to leave some food and cover for the water voles. No herbicide to be used this year and they have been told to leave a wider margin along the brook at Edward German Drive when mowing the grass. So that's a good example of 'joined up thinking' when it comes to environmental maintenance.
Had a walk down Whixall Moss and saw sporadic evidence of feeding and a couple of burrows near the car park. There are plenty of ditches all round the Moss, but unfortunately most of them are pretty choked up.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

This is a vole John Harding saw on the 21st, and I've just spent a happy half hour watching another (and there may have been a second one further up the bank because there was a lot of disturbance under the water by the bank). I managed to litter pick all round the vole, who was feeding on dock, grass and young nettles. At one point a boy ran across the bridge making a terrific clatter, and again the vole didn't show any reaction; shortly afterwards a group of teenage girls came past and admired it, and asked about voles in general. Throughout the conversation we had, which was shouted across the brook, the little animal continued to feed without concern.
I was able to get very close and see how dextrously it used its front paws to pluck and hold vegetation. The general shape of a water vole - the big bottom, the blunt nose - always reminds me of a guinea pig, but those nimble front paws are more like a hamster's.
At one point a rat came across the bank and seemed to be stalking the vole, but as soon as the vole became aware, it dropped into the water and vanished. The rat moved on. I'm wondering how much of a threat brown rats are?

Monday, 19 March 2007

A Less Charming View

That's five trolleys you can see in this short stretch. Mid-April some sort of decision's going to be made by Tesco central re coin-release trolleys for Whitchurch. I'd have thought it was a no-brainer. The money and time that's wasted pulling trolleys out, the cost of replacing stolen ones, the less tangible but nevertheless hugely important cost in community relations, environmental message and store profile - can there be any other answer?

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Water Vole Sighting

Saw this one under the bridge at Tesco, eating buttercup leaves and dock.

A petition worth supporting

I've been following this campaign for eight months now, and I hope you can take a moment to have a look and add your signature. More info about the lakes, and the destruction that villagers are trying to prevent, here:

Waymills again

Had a walk up Waymills again and was amazed to see prints all the way along. The latrine immediately left is near the culvert just before Station Road; the prints above that are under the bridge by what was the playground; and the prints by the brick pipe outlet are opposite Waylands Close - so there's evidence of water voles the entire length of that section of the Staggs Brook. After this there's a gap, no field signs at all where the brook goes along the back of Edward German Drive at the moment. Then another cluster by Tesco.
We've seen this pattern before, though; you can have lots of water vole activity on one side of a bridge, and none at all on the other side, twenty yards away. But vole colonies move about and stretch and shrink as populations peak and fall, so an absence of signs in one patch doesn't mean anything other than there aren't obviously voles around that spot at the moment. It'll be interesting to look again towards the end of the summer and see where they've spread.
Trolleys are unfortunately a problem even in this part of town, so far away from Tesco.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Curious bird

I think it's a redwing. A pair of grey wagtails and a blackbird with a white head haunt the trees at the back of the fire station; a wren lives in the ivy that runs up the side of Centre North East, and last night I saw a goldcrest having a drink in the brook.
Lots of vole latrines about now, and prints on both sides going down from the east culvert down as far as the overhanging willow trees on the Tesco side.
The banks are still dreadully bare, though. I was watching a video I took last year in June, and the difference between the state of the vegetation then (lush as a jungle) and now is incredible.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Feeding Station

Chatting to a lady this evening who told me that, earlier in the day, this larder on the left had been empty, but by evening it was full again. I wonder why they make and store these piles of chopped grass?
At 6.15pm a vole swam from somewhere upstream down to the bank near the pipe and disappeared. I report all sightings to John Harding at the Wood Lane Nature Reserve (see Whitchurch Water Vole Group link on right).
There are now five trolleys in the brook, all of them collecting debris and muck. But dragging them out will cause damage to the banks. It's a real problem.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Another sighting

At 4.45pm, by the pipe. There's also this latrine under the bridge. I think this means the females are gearing up to mate.

What's nice is how many people ask, as they go past, Are they there? Have you seen any yet? Adults and children, men and women. There's a real sense of community ownership with this little colony.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Water Vole, March 8th

Another vole

Well despite another three trolleys (that's four altogether at the moment) I was able to watch and film this lovely vole at 9.30 am today. There are prints all the way along the banks, from the east culvert down to the willow on the Tesco side of the bridge, but my guess is that any voles are staying mainly up at the east end, near the road, where there's still a little bit of cover left. This is where I spotted this one, about half way between the salt bin and the culvert entrance.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

News just in!

Had this email from Malcolm Monie of the Whitchurch Water Vole Group:

Geof Brown of Property Sevices at NSDC has confirmed, after consulting their legal department, that the grass and bank is NSDC's.

So no one's supposed to interfere with it without going through North Shropshire District Council and the Environment Agency. Glad that's clarified.

The place is looking awful now because every scrap of rubbish shows up, and the trolley's still there merrily accumulating debris. Sometimes it's hard to keep positive, but I really hate pessimism because it saps your energy. I'll just have to get out there with my litter-picker.


I reproduce this email from Andrew Johnson at Tesco with his permission:

After our conversation earlier today I have made contact with [the landscaping firm] with reference to Whitchurch. They have returned the mail below suggesting that they have not undertaken works on the river bank at that location. However, they do confirm that they have carried out works as far as the top of the bank as per their usual annual maintenance programme last month.

Regardless of the above I have made it clear to [the landscaping firm's] senior management that their staff are to be aware of the issue & subsequently [the landscaping firm] have confirmed that they will not carry out any works on the river bank at Whitchurch (They have cascaded the information to their service engineers).

Furthermore we understand that the Store Manager has made an arrangement with your Whitchurch Water Vole Group, whereby he will request your help to clear any future vegetation issues we encounter - thus protecting the habitat/bank ecosystem and ensuring your Group are consulted prior to works.

I trust this helps to clarify any further concerns you may have, and we apologise sincerely whether [the landscaping firm] or others were responsible for the trimming works.

This is excellent news, especially as I could see from the header the email had been copied to lots of people. Well done Mr Johnson! Still not wholly clear who's done this strimming, unfortunately, but at least that's another group of people who work on the brook who now understand the importance of maintaining this precious habitat.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Name That Reed

Some signs of feeding by the burrow near the pipe. I've included a close-up showing the characteristic 45 degree cut water voles make (click on the left-hand photo to make it bigger). What is that reed? Does anyone know?

Trolley's still there.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Prints, trolley, you know the drill

What really makes me angry is that none of this cosmetic work, the installation of the extra railings, the scarification of what were beautiful lush banks, has made a jot of difference to the trolley problem. There's even a trolley at the end of our road - you can see them abandoned all over the town and it looks appalling.
I'm still waiting for a response from the central maintenance department at Tesco.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Small hope

But will they hang around when the cut vegetation dies off? These are animals so vulnerable to predation they need every scrap of cover going...

Thursday, 1 March 2007


Astonishingly, a water vole under the pipe that's near the salt bin. It looked a bit confused - after all, half its natural cover's gone, the place looks like the Somme - but it ate some shoots I couldn't identify and then some buttercup leaves, and then swam across to the opposite bank. I watched it for about ten minutes till it made off through the water in the direction of the east culvert. I hope it wasn't an ave atque vale moment.
Will make sure I take my camera next time!


So all the time I was being reassured the work had finished and the banks would now be left alone, MORE aggressive vegetation-removal was being done and now patches of the banks on both sides all the way along are scraped down to the soil, leaving burrows exposed and voles without protective cover. This is totally against all good environmental practice and has been done in spite of Tesco knowing there are water voles in that brook and without consulting the Environment Agency.

There are no footprints this morning, nothing - frankly I'd be amazed if this wasn't an intervention too far and the voles were gone for good. I could weep. What are we all working for, when people like this come along and wipe it out at a stroke?