Arvicola – Water voles

With stocky bodies and short tails, but has essential ecological roles

Despite their unassuming appearance, these small rodents are pivotal in maintaining the health and balance of their habitats. Characterized by their short tails, small ears, and stocky bodies, water voles are superbly adapted to life in and around water bodies. Their dense fur provides insulation, while their powerful limbs and webbed feet enable them to swim proficiently.

The diet of water voles is predominantly herbivorous, feeding on various aquatic vegetation, grasses, and herbs. This feeding behavior is crucial in maintaining the integrity of riverbanks and wetlands. Trimming vegetation helps prevent overgrowth, which can lead to blockages and flooding. Additionally, their burrowing activities aerate the soil, promoting the health of aquatic plants and contributing to a dynamic and healthy ecosystem.

Water voles are also an essential link in the food chain, serving as prey for various predators, including birds of prey, foxes, and otters. Their presence in an ecosystem indicates a healthy and balanced environment, as they are sensitive to pollution and changes in water quality. Thus, their decline often signals broader environmental issues.

Unfortunately, water vole populations have been experiencing a significant decline due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation. These challenges are primarily the result of human activities, such as agricultural expansion, urban development, and the introduction of non-native species like the American mink, which prey on water voles. Climate change exacerbates these threats by altering the water vole’s habitats, affecting the availability of food and shelter.