Water vole, Arvicola amphibious.  The famous ‘Ratty’ from Wind in the Willows is a Water Vole. Despite that name, they are not rats and they suffer from much unfair persecution when mistaken as such. Water Voles are one of the easiest mammals to see in the wild however their numbers  have suffered a steep decline

General information:

The Water Vole is the largest of the British voles with a head and body measuring around 20cm.

Water Voles inhabit the banks of slow-flowing rivers, streams and ditches as well as still water such as lakes, ponds and dykes.

Their presence can be determined by searching for their burrows at and above water level, together with footprints, characteristic piles of droppings (latrines) and feeding remains.

They need suitable habitat in close proximity to allow populations to expand and recolonise areas. Water Voles also need areas to retreat to in the event of flooding. Water Voles do not hibernate, but remain in their burrows for much of the winter with a food store.

As the lower reaches of rivers become unsuitable for habitation, the distribution of Water Voles becomes discontinuous and existing sites become isolated and vulnerable.

What we want to do…. Our key objectives …

Priority species

Water vole, Arvicola amphibiuous, is a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan 2007 (UK BAP).

Water vole remains a Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act (2006).

As such it is a national priority species in Biodiversity 2020.

It is a local priority species for Barnsley because of its national status, its general decline and the potential for improvement.

Legal protection.

Water Voles are fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to

Water vole need to be taken into consideration by any public body in managing their estate (section 41 NERC Act (2006))

The decline in numbers.

Water vole is found throughout Britain with strongholds in lowland areas near water. Once common and widespread, this species has suffered a significant decline in numbers and distribution.

A national survey in 1989-90 failed to find signs of Water Voles in 67% of sites where they were previously recorded.

New maps produced by the National UK Water Vole Database and Mapping Project show that the species range may have shrunk by 22% between a 2007-11 survey and a 2004-08 survey. This makes the Water Vole the UK’s fastest declining mammal species.

Within the Barnsley area the main areas which still contain this species are the Rivers Dove and Dearne, with parts of the remaining Barnsley canal system and also the tributaries of the River Don. Unfortunately Mink are moving into these areas, increasing the threat to remaining populations.


Land and waterbody owners and managers, including Barnsley Council, Environment Agency, and other public bodies and utility companies, private companies, charitable trusts, fishing clubs, and individuals:  follow best practice in managing rivers and streams, their banks, and open water and wetlands to support water vole.

Wildlife conservation bodies: give advice and provide practical support for habitat management for water vole.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust with Landfill Communities funding: advises land-owners and improves habitats for water vole.

Barnsley Council as planning authority:

ensures water vole is protected through the planning process; sets conditions in relevant planning applications to ensure that relevant habitats are maintained and enhanced; takes into consideration records of water vole presence.   

Voluntary groups and volunteers: help with information about the condition of sites that support water vole and provide records of sightings and signs of water vole; help with measures to support water vole, eg: habitat management.

Comments welcome

Email address not public.

Links with
priority habitats



Wetlands including reedbed and swamp, marsh and wet grassland, upland flushes.

Further information + advice

Natural England advice

Factors causing loss or decline

Supporting water voles

Silt-shored banks for burrowing or slow-moving and relatively deep water courses.


Actions and mitigation to improve things for water vole:

Barnsley Biodiversity Trust.  Barnsley Biodiversity Action Plan. Last Updated March 2016