Water voles - what to look out for

(c) Richard Steel(c) Richard Steel

Although water voles can turn up in some unlikely places, they tend to prefer slow moving streams, ponds and ditches where the banks are covered with lush vegetation such as rushes, sedges and tall grasses.

The water vole is the largest of Britain's voles. Seeing a water vole is quite difficult these days although you may hear them dive into the water with a characteristic “plop” as you approach the habitat or hear them munching away on nearby vegetation.

To tell if water voles are present we can look for 4 field signs:

Burrows(c) WildNet

  • 4 – 8cm diameter
  • Usually found on the bank edge but sometimes on the top
  • Sometimes grazed around the hole entrance when a female with young is in the burrow
  • No spoil or worn areas near the entrance like rat burrows

Feeding remains(c) Tom Marshall

Water voles will eat up to 240 different species of plants. Summer favourites include rushes and reeds.

  • Feeding remains are left in neat piles of parts 4-10 cm long
  • The cut vegetation has a 45° angle at ends


  • Piles of droppings (latrines) mark breeding territories
  • Droppings are 8-10mm long and 4-5mm wide.
  • Droppings have rounded ends like a tic tac
  • Colour varies but is often dark green
  • Smells like damp hay


  • Easily confused with rats
  • Forefoot is a 4 toed star shaped imprint 14-18mm length
  • Hind foot is 5 toed and 24-35mm heel to claw with outer toes splayed horizontally.

We are always keen to hear about new records for this threatened species. If you think you have seen any of the above signs please call Andrea Powell on 01948 820728 or email or apowell@cheshirewt.org.uk