Milton Keynes volunteers needed to spot endangered species

Volunteers are needed to spot these rare animals, to aid the creatures' long term survival.

Friday, 16th April 2021, 10:08 am

For the next two months wildlife charity, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), is calling for volunteers in Milton Keynes and beyond to search for sightings and signs of water voles along local riverbanks, canals and other inland waterways.

Launched yesterday (April 15), the survey is open until June 15, and is conducted to help discover where water voles are living, how their populations are changing each year, and where they are in most need of help.

The survey makes up part of the not-for-profit organisation's National Water Vole Monitoring Programme and it has ran since 2015.

A native water vole

Due to the pandemic last year's survey was cancelled, but the charity hopes the positive relationship people developed with nature during lockdown will mean the public are keen to get involved.

Henrietta Pringle, a data officer at PTES, explains: “Water voles are Britain’s fastest declining mammal – a staggering 90% of the population was lost between the 1980s and 1990s alone - so they really need our help. Due to lockdown last spring, we were unable to survey water voles, meaning we now have a gap in our dataset. Finding out where water voles are is crucial to their conservation, so now more than ever we need feet on the ground to help us look for these adorable riverside residents to see how they’re faring.”

To take part, individuals, ‘bubbles’ or households are asked to select one of the 850 pre-selected sites close to their home, which can be found online. If there isn’t a pre-selected site close by, new sites on a local waterway can be registered. Volunteers are asked to walk along the riverbank looking for sightings of water voles, listening out for the characteristic ‘plop’ as they enter the water, or spotting the signs they leave behind, such as footprints, droppings, latrines or bankside burrows. Surveyors are also asked to record any sightings or signs of American mink and otters, both predators of water voles.

No previous experience is needed, as there are detailed survey guidelines and online training materials to help you identify water voles and their signs. To find out more and to take part in the survey, visit the PTES website here.

A spokesperson for the charity offered further context on why these animals have declined so dramatically in such a short space of time, saying: "Water voles used to be a familiar feature of Britain’s inland water networks, but loss of suitable habitat and the arrival of non-native American mink in the 1980s and 1990s drove them out of their former riverbank and waterway homes, decimating them. PTES set up the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme in 2015 to help counter this, building on work previously carried out by the Vincent Wildlife Trust."

Henrietta continues: “Despite the shocking statistics, knowing the reasons behind the decline means it’s in our power to reverse it. By restoring bankside vegetation and connecting patches of existing habitat across the landscape, water voles can be successfully encouraged to return to our waterways. With the help of the public this spring, we hope to better understand where water voles are living so we can best protect them – and hopefully, one day they will become a common sight on our riverbanks again.”