Water Vole Surveys and Mitigation

Currently the water vole has a patchy, fragmented distribution throughout Britain, with strongholds in southern and eastern Britain as well as Anglesey, the Isle of Wight, Scotland and some upland areas. The water vole in Britain is associated with riparian habitat, having adopted a semi-aquatic lifestyle. Water voles live in burrows dug into the river bank and feed primarily on vegetation.

Over the last 100 years the water vole has declined dramatically both in numbers and distribution throughout the UK, due mainly to changes in land use and riparian habitat management which have resulted in both habitat loss and degradation. These changes have left water vole populations vulnerable to predation by American mink, drought, flooding, pollution and disease.

Water voles live in colonies spread along watercourses in a series of contiguous territories. They show a preference for sites with wide swathes of riparian vegetation, both on the banks and in the water, with highly layered bank-side vegetation containing tall grasses and stands of vegetation which provide both food and cover. In general a preference is also shown for slow-flowing, relatively deep water courses, with steeper banks that are easy to dig into. Although mainly associated with rivers, water voles can be found inhabiting the banks of canals, lakes, ditches, ponds and reedbeds.

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Case Studies

Habitat, GCN, Reptile & Water Vole Surveys - Proposed Retail Development

An Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey was carried out in 2015 for a proposed retail development in West Sussex.  The site and surrounding area were found to mostly consist of riparian vegetation and rough semi improved grassland.  There was a ditch running through the site and into adjacent areas and five ponds were within 500m ......

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Summary of Legal Protection

Water voles are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). The legislation makes it an offence to:

  • Intentionally kill, injure or capture a water vole
  • Destroy, damage or obstruct a water vole resting place or breeding site, intentionally or recklessly
  • Intentionally or recklessly disturb a water vole while it is occupying a structure or place of shelter or protection

Surveys, Impact Assessment and Mitigation

Our professional ecologists can help ensure your project is designed and implemented in compliance with the legal protections for water voles, improving the chances of successfully gaining planning permission while minimising the scope for impacts on this secretive species. Our survey services include:

  • Habitat suitability assessments
  • Field sign surveys – searching for signs of water vole presence, such as feeding stations, droppings and latrines, burrows and nests, footprints and runways
  • Receptor site surveys
  • Displacement and translocation
  • Habitat management, creation and enhancement works
  • Post-construction monitoring

Field sign surveys are best carried out between mid-April and September and require two or more visits, depending on survey objectives. Following the completion of appropriately designed surveys, we carry out impact assessments and advise on design alterations to retain important features – buffered waterways with sufficient foraging resources – integrated within the site, while minimising the scope for disturbance. Alternatively we can advise on mitigation, compensation and enhancement measures to ensure there are no long term impacts on species survival, sometimes involving the displacement of water voles from the construction zone and creation of new habitats. Once planning permission has been granted, we can also assist with gaining the necessary licence permissions from Natural England.

We’ve carried out water vole surveys on schemes of all sizes and assisted numerous clients in successfully gaining planning permission while complying with legal protections for water voles. Our ecology team operates throughout the UK, although our core area includes Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and London.

Ecological Surveys

Impact Assessments

Environmental Planning


Biodiversity Net Gain