Improving homes for water voles

As part of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund project we are helping water voles by improving the habitat for them, read on to find out how...

Down at our Woodside Farm Nature Reserve we have been conducting work to improve the habitat for our local water voles thanks to our Green Recovery Challenge Fund from The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Water voles feel most at home in areas next to slow flowing streams and brooks, where they will burrow into the banks to nest and graze on the bankside vegetation.

Unfortunately, the brooks at Woodside have become overgrown with mature willow trees which means there has been less opportunity for the grasses, rushes and low growing herbaceous plants - that water voles like to eat - to grow.

Fast flowing water has scoured the riverbed making the channel too deep and narrow so the water that flows through the brook will be too fast for the good water vole habitat.  The quicker the water flows the quicker their burrows will flood when the water levels rise.

To combat these issues, staff at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have been cutting selected willows along the brook.  This work is being managed by Kate Lemon, Regional Manager (Trent and Erewash), and her team.

Water vole, Terry Whittaker 2020 Vision

Water vole, Terry Whittaker 2020 Vision

Felling the willows down at Woodside will let the light hit the bankside giving the vegetation the chance to grow, the perfect opportunity for the herbaceous plants the water voles love to eat.

Then by adding the cut willow branches to the stream, this will have a beneficial impact in a variety of ways; firstly slowing the water flow down to a speed that water voles can swim happily. 

Secondly, holding water back in flood events so it moves through the area more slowly.  All of the trees that are felled will be left in the channel with their branches intact which helps to create a natural dam effect.  It will help to create a mosaic of deeper pools, shallow areas, open banks and scrub, mirroring more accurately what would happen when trees fall naturally. 

The slower moving water will create a wider channel which stays at a more constant level so water voles can dig their burrows on the water line and not have to worry about getting flooded out or being left too high above the water line.

We will be monitoring the brooks for signs of water vole to see if our work is successful.  We are hopeful that all of the working taking place will benefit some of the beautiful wildlife we see down at Woodside, including our lovely water voles and other key species such as kingfisher, water rail and amphibians.