The best of Dorset in words and pictures

‘Small neat ears and thick silky hair’

Stewart Canham has been photographing water voles on the River Stour

From The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame:
‘A brown little face with whiskers.
‘ A grave round face, with the same twinkle in its eyes that had first attracted his notice.
‘Small neat ears and thick silky hair.
‘It was the Water Rat.’

Actually, it wasn’t. It was the water vole, as there is no such animal as a water rat. And the water vole is no rat, no scavenger, but a complete vegetarian.

These photographs were taken on a stretch of about 800 yards of the upper reaches of the Stour near Gillingham. On my initial visits I saw very little. Then on the fourth trip I noticed a set of holes at the base of a large tree and, as the vegetation has been well eaten, decided to spend some time watching this spot. After about an hour, a small brown furry head appeared out of one of the holes – at last a water vole!

I have since found water voles at a few different places along the stretch, but am spending much more time at its downstream end. Here there are a pair of water voles that seem to be out and about for long periods of the day. Best of all, they are out in the sunshine, so getting acceptable photographs is a lot easier.

I have passed a lot of images to the Dorset Wildlife Trust and hope that it may help with the monitoring of this fascinating animal. In recent years there has been a 90% drop in its numbers, mainly because of American mink released from mink farms; unfortunately, the mink is one predator that can get down the water vole burrows. The Trust is doing sterling work to protect water voles and there is real hope that numbers will rise again.

‘Sometime I sits and thinks....’ Water voles spend a lot of time just sitting and looking at the water.

A swimming water vole creates the characteristic V-shaped wake which makes it easy to spot an animal when it is in the water

Water voles’ lives revolve around eating. They need to consume 80% of their own body weight every day, and at least 226 different plant species are known to have been eaten by them.

To say that water voles are bad-tempered is an understatement. As soon as two come anywhere near each other, a fierce battle ensues. It never lasts very long and I have not seen any injuries, but how they ever come close enough to reproduce is a mystery!

This water vole has climbed a tree to feed on the new leaves. I have only seen this happen once.

A shot taken from a bridge over the water. From the look on his face, he knew I was there!

A reflective moment, in both senses of the word

Water voles, like other small furry animals, look very endearing when they are eating.

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