The water vole is a protected species, listed under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and a species identified as being of principal importance under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. As part of this, the species has a number of priority actions assigned to it, and as this is a devolved matter, the following information refers to actions in England.
Natural England is committed to the actions set out in the Species Action Plan for water voles, alongside partner organisations noted within the plan, and recently published ‘A Review of the Population and Conservation Status of British Mammals’, which identifies and confirms areas of work where continued resource should be placed to conserve and enhance water vole populations. Natural England is working with Sussex University, Brighton University, the Wildlife Trusts and People’s Trust for Endangered Species to undertake a habitat suitability mapping exercise to maximise conservation gain using a landscape scale approach. Dependent on these findings and the results of another project, with WildCru (Oxford University) and specialist water vole consultants assessing mitigation techniques used in development, Natural England is considering adapting its licensing policies with the aim of maximising conservation gain for the species at a landscape scale.
Since 2010 the Environment Agency has delivered 328 projects that included habitat creation or improvement for the benefit of water voles. It has restored 6,725 hectares and created 6,330 hectares of priority habitat in rivers, lakes and coastal waters. The Environment Agency has delivered training to relevant staff across its organisation to raise awareness of water voles and their protection, and screens its activities to ensure water voles and their habitats are protected from damage.
Agri-environment schemes such as Countryside Stewardship provide suitable habitat for wildlife including water voles and other small mammals. Scheme options that benefit water voles include buffer strips alongside ponds, ditches, and other watercourses and fencing alongside watercourses to protect bankside vegetation.
In addition, the Forestry Commission is currently undertaking a flagship project for water voles in Kielder Forest. Having eradicated the mink there, the Forestry Commission is working with the Tyne Rivers Trust, Northumberland Wildlife Trust and the University of Aberdeen on the restoration of water voles and their habitats across the North Tyne catchment, and has already released hundreds of water voles into the area.