How to spot a water vole

It all depends on where you live as to how easy it is to spot a water vole. Their most famous characteristic is the ‘plop’ as they disappear just before you arrive on the scene, having been alerted by the noise of your footsteps as you approach and any companion accompanying you. So much so it has been suggested that they should collectively be called a ‘plop’ of water voles!

Urban water voles are much easier to see than their country cousins, as they are used to higher levels of human disturbance and so become habituated to humans. Although even in urban areas, any sudden noise will make them dive or run into their nearest burrow and they will not emerge again for up to 20 minutes. So here are some tips to increase your chances of seeing water voles wherever you happen to be:

  • Rule number one is stealth! Learn to walk quietly, placing your feet softly on the ground.
  • Mute your phone!
  • Walk slowly, scanning the water for ripples coming from the edge of the stream where a water vole may be feeding. Look for active burrows, or twitching vegetation on the banks as they tug at the stems. Please see the Quick Guide for these signs.
  • If you are silent, you will be able to hear them as the bite through the stems of plants. They can be quite noisy!
  • Stand or sit still sometimes and wait for up to 20 minutes. It can be rewarding.
  • Wear noiseless clothes and a hat with colours that blend in with the environment.
  • If you spot feeding signs or a latrine, it’s a good place to wait.
  • If your dog has a quiet temperament and will walk alongside you on a lead, then there’s no reason why you should not still be able to see a water vole.