Water voles make their homes alongside streams and ditches on the Eastern Moors. Sometimes you can be lucky enough to see these secretive creatures sitting eating rushes or can hear them ‘plop’ into the water when they seek the cover of their burrows. Water voles are vegetarian and will eat lots of different plants, on the Eastern Moors they tend to eat rushes and grasses. The remains of plants they have been feeding on can be found in the areas where they live, they hold the plants while they eat them leaving a characteristic angled cut. Other signs to look for are the brown ‘tic tac’ shape droppings which are often in piles called latrines. It is also possible to see narrow trampled pathways along their well used routes and paw prints in soft mud.
Conservation and research
Many upland areas act as a strong hold for these creatures, as is the case on the Eastern Moors. Numbers have declined nationally in recent decades due to land use changes and the introduction of mink into the countryside. We have always known that water voles lived on the estate but had little information on where and how many. In 2015 we began to survey the estate, starting on the Barbrook as we knew some lived there. We were pleased to find them along the whole length of the brook, the amount at any particular place depending on the condition of the stream and the surrounding habitat. They tend to favour areas with vegetation growing down to the waters edge to provide food and cover, but avoid areas with lots of trees. Although called a water vole they are not particularly well adapted to aquatic life and are not strong swimmers compared to other mammals that live in water such as otters. The water voles live alongside the water, moving around on the banks rather than in the water when possible, so they prefer streams to be slow flowing. The water is used as a defence for the burrows so the water voles can escape from predators.