Looking for ratty

Loch Lomond NNR

On Thursday 30th August,  Trossachs Water Vole Project (TWVP) visited Loch Lomond NNR to have a look about and see if there were any water voles lurking in the undergrowth. TWVP Project Officer, Steve Willis was joined by three volunteers from Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. Waders on, maps in hand, the four brave souls set out across the bogs, wetlands, and river banks.

water vole post 1

One of many drainage ditches which could potentially be home to water voles. Alongside this ditch the sharp-eyed surveyors found the remains of a duck that had been caught and eaten by a mammal of some form. A mink perhaps?

There have not been any confirmed water vole sightings on either the SNH or RSPB part of the NNR the NNR for years now and it is likely that they went extinct some time ago, victims of the usual suspects of our changing land uses, loss of habitat, and the determined efforts of the non-native American mink- a particularly effective predator of ‘ratty’.

water vole post 3

Volunteers surveying at the Wards ox-bow.

Why spend a day looking for them then, I hear you cry? Well, TWVP is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and since those early days when captive bred water voles were released in Loch Ard forest the water vole population has grown and expanded to cover a vast area. In 2016 water voles were detected on Moor Park, the high ground above Drymen and Balmaha that border Loch Ard forest. Detailed survey by the project (and, of course, our hardy volunteers) found populations thriving from the Old Drymen Road all the way up to Cashel. As these sites are just uphill of some prime habitat at the mouth of the Endrick it makes sense to check if a few early pioneers have recolonised and set up home.

water vole post 2

Prints on the river bank! Neither mink or water vole though- these were from an otter which had worked its way along the edge of the river.

 Surveying for water voles is all about field signs as the animals are very rarely actually seen. The signs we look for are prints (in mud or sand), feeding signs (they eat 80% of their body weight a day!) and droppings. Droppings are far the best field sign to look for. Water vole droppings are the size and shape of a tic-tac and can either be left singly or- even better- in big piles called ‘latrines’. Latrines are a sure sign of breeding- left by the females to mark her territory. What all this means is that we spend a great deal of time looking along the edges of ponds, rivers, and wetlands for small piles of poo. Yes, we’re very lucky people.

water vole post 4

Conic Hill with Moor Park behind. Home to healthy water vole colonies, really not far from the NNR.

There is an abundance of great water vole habitat at Loch Lomond NNR but sadly we didn’t find any signs of water voles, despite four people spending most of the day searching. As there is little to no mink control going on in the area then it is not hugely surprising. Mink will be thriving in this rich lowland habitat and any water voles venturing down from Moor Park won’t last long. If any volunteers would like to help monitor mink then we really would appreciate the help.

One of these days we might just enjoy watching water voles back on the Endrick, and some volunteers will get very excited about finding a little pile of green tic-tacs!


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1 Response to Looking for ratty

  1. peigimccann says:

    I have a friend from Stirling, an avid landscape photographer, who we call Ratty who loves photographing at Flanders Moss. For a moment there I thought he was lost!

    Liked by 1 person

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