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Keep an eye out for a much-loved mammal

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: July 09, 2014


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A WALK by Carsington Water or along the Cromford Canal is always a treat, but you may also spot one of the county's most rapidly declining mammals – the water vole.

Immortalised as the cultured and relaxed Ratty in Kenneth Grahame's Wind In The Willows, the water vole is under pressure, with numbers dropping due to factors such as habitat loss and predation by non-native American mink, which were released or escaped from fur farms that existed until 2000.

Nationally, their numbers have dropped by 90% – but Derbyshire does still have some strongholds.

Water voles live by slow-flowing rivers, streams and ditches, around ponds and lakes and in marshes, reedbeds and areas of wet moorland.

When I lived in Oxfordshire, I found a burrow in the bank of the stream bordering my garden.

There was a nibbled patch of grass round the entrance, and a pile of rounded, cigar-shaped droppings.

When at last I spotted its owner, I saw a plump creature with chestnut-brown fur, rounded nose, small, rounded ears that are almost buried in its fur and – the easiest way to distinguish it from a rat – a furry tail.

It fitted the size range of 140mm to 220mm long, plus a tail of 55mm to 70mm.

I had my very own water vole!

In Derbyshire, there are still places to see water voles, such as the moors on the eastern edge of the Peak District, south of the Dark Peak, in streams such as Bar Brook.

Explore Lathkill Dale, the nature reserve at Chee Dale and the River Wye as it runs through Bakewell town centre. Cromford Canal, from Cromford Wharf to Ambergate is my favourite spot.

You can also try looking on the pond by the Wildlife Centre at Carsington Water, the ditches from Sheepwash Hide or the reedbed at the north end of the reservoir.

Erewash Meadows Nature Reserve, jointly managed by Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire wildlife trusts on the county boundary, is another site. Chesterfield Canal is one of the most accessible places to see water voles in Derbyshire. The visitor centre, near the start of the canal, is a good place to begin.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is working with water companies, the Environment Agency, volunteers and angling clubs to keep a watch on numbers and improve water vole habitats – fencing water to prevent bank destruction by grazing animals and avoiding mechanical digging of ditches to remove silt, which destroys the soft banks needed for burrows.

You can help by reporting sightings of water voles.

Visit www.derbyshire wildlifetrust.org.uk or call 01773 881188 for more information.

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