Last year, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) launched the first ever National Water Vole Monitoring Programme (NWVMP).
After a successful initial year, PTES is hoping to build on this citizen science project with a call for more volunteers to participate this May. Water voles were once a common sight along UK riverbanks and waterways, but over the last century they have experienced the most severe decline of any wild mammal in the UK. The NWVMP provides an essential resource in our efforts to conserve the species.
The decline in water vole populations has been attributed to the intensification of agriculture in the 1940s and 50s, and more recently the release of non-native American mink during the 1980s and 90s. The impact of mink has been devastating: between 1989 and 1998 the water vole population crashed by almost 90%.
The first year of the NWVMP saw 188 waterway sites surveyed by volunteers, of which 68 indicated water voles were present. While this is a great start, PTES are still looking for more volunteers to help survey sites across the UK, to ensure all regions have a sufficient number of sites being surveyed. In particular more sites are needed in the south-west of England. Once a site is surveyed its data is submitted online, allowing PTES to develop a wider picture of how UK water voles are faring, and which populations are in most need of help.
This spring, PTES is asking existing water vole monitors, and new recruits, to take part in the 2016 NWVMP. Volunteers are required to survey one of the nearly 900 pre-selected sites across England, Wales and Scotland, and record all sightings and signs of water voles along a 500m length of riverbank during May. While no experience is required, those taking part will need to learn how to identify water vole field signs.
Emily Thomas, who coordinates the NWVMP at PTES says: “We are delighted by the response to our first National Water Vole Monitoring Programme. With the help of volunteers we have started building a robust dataset that can be used to monitor year-on-year trends in the water vole population. The data gathered so far are invaluable but, more still needs to be done if we are to be in a position to react quickly to future changes and make a real impact to water vole conservation.”
To find out more about the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, visit: www.ptes.org/watervoles .