The following article will describe the water vole in Scotland, and some of the reasons for its serious decline in numbers, and the efforts of some organisations to rectify the situation and maintain this species as part of the wildlife.
The water vole (Arvicola terrestris) – an elusive native British rodent, is found along slow moving waterways, and commonly known as 'Ratty' from Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind in the Willows'. Despite this famous reference, the water vole is a mammal whose numbers are much in decline in the UK. In fact, these beautiful animals are one of Britain’s most threatened species, with some studies estimating a 96% decrease in numbers since the middle of the last century. They are listed by Scottish Natural Heritage as a priority under their species protection framework. Why are these unusual rodents in such trouble? The primary reason for their decline is predation by the American mink (Neovison vison). This mammal, native to America, was introduced to the UK for fur farming. By the 1950s (around the same time as the beginning of the decline of the water voles), so many voles had been released or escaped that there was a significant population in the wild, which has continued to spread to this day. The aims of the Scottish Mink Initiative However, there are some populations in the very North West of Scotland, which remain (as yet) untouched by mink, thus providing not only a safe haven, but also important study populations. The creation of the Scottish Mink Initiative is also another hope for water vole populations across northern Scotland. The initiative, a collaboration between many of Scotland’s conservation and wildlife organisations, aims to keep this area mink free and to rid the rest of North Scotland of mink, by the physical removal of individuals. Impact This work will not only benefit water vole populations, but many other native animals which are also affected by the mink, including many important bird and fish species. Hopefully through this and other initiatives, Man can help to restore water vole numbers and prevent another native mammals from disappearing from the Scottish countryside.