Volunteers are needed to help save one of Britain’s fastest declining mammals, by taking part in a nationwide water vole survey.

The wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) runs the annual survey, which requires volunteers to visit a local waterway and record their findings online.

The survey, which runs until Thursday 15 June, is part of PTES’s National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, which was set up in 2015 to help combat the decline in water vole populations.

Water voles underwent one of the most serious declines of any wild mammal in Britain during the 20th century, but it says their fate can be turned around with the help of volunteers.

Emily Sabin, the trust’s water vole officer, explained: “We’re asking volunteers to find their nearest stream, ditch, river or canal, and look out for water voles.

“We want people to listen for their characteristic ‘plop’ as they dive into the water, or see the signs they leave behind, from footprints and burrows in the riverbank to feeding signs and droppings.

“Any sightings or signs of American mink should also be recorded.”

GOOD SIGN – Typical water vole burrows. (Photo by E Marnham)

Emily explained that, arguably, the best-known water vole is Ratty from The Wind in the Willows – who wasn’t really a rat. Despite Ratty’s fame, water voles continue to experience an ongoing decline.

“They are listed as endangered on the Red List for Britain’s Mammals and are now facing extinction in Britain thanks to historical agricultural intensification, habitat loss and fragmentation, and predation from non-native American mink,” added Emily.”

The data gathered by the survey enables conservationists at PTES to see where water voles are living – and where they’re no longer living – which dictates where conservation efforts need to be concentrated.

Emily said: “No prior experience is needed. We’re offering free online training and Zoom talks so that anyone can find out more and hopefully get involved. There are over 400 pre-selected sites volunteers can choose from, and if there isn’t a site nearby new sites can be registered.

“We have hundreds of fantastic volunteers who survey water voles for us every year, but given the severe decline water voles have experienced, more help is always needed.

“Last year, 216 sites were surveyed, with 85 showing signs of water voles. This builds on data from 2021, where 116 sites were surveyed, with 47 indicating water vole presence. We really hope even more people can take part this year to help us further understand how water voles are faring.”

To access the free online training, to sign up to one of PTES’s free Zoom talks or to find out more, visit www.ptes.org/watervoles.