‘Small neat ears and thick silky hair’
Stewart Canham has been photographing water voles on the River Stour
Published in January ’10
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.