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Surrey's Vanishing Voles

Water Vole Recovery Project© Jon Hakins

The water vole is a much loved resident of British waterways, perhaps because of its association with Ratty from Wind in the Willows or because of its irresistible round face, button eyes and furry body.

The fact that this cherished creature has suffered “one of the most rapid and serious declines of any British wild mammal ever” (PTES) and may indeed already be functionally extinct in Surrey is a devastating loss for us all.

Nationally water voles have disappeared from 94% of their former sites and this is largely due to habitat destruction and the introduction and spread of the invasive American Mink.

Water Voles in Surrey

Like in many places, water voles were once an important part of fresh water habitats in Surrey and were found on all river catchments in the county. However, surveys within the last 20 years have shown a dramatic decline in water vole numbers. The last confirmed sighting of a wild water vole in Surrey was recorded a worrying 8 years ago back in 2008, and there has been an unnerving silence since.

What we are doing

  • Survey, map and report on sites that previously had water voles.
  • Manage and enhance areas of habitat for water voles.
  • Advise local authorities and planners on river and ditch management.
  • Where necessary, coordinate mink control.  
  • If appropriate, re-establish a water vole population or re-introduce them if necessary.

The results so far

So far a total of 64 water vole surveys have been carried out, undertaken by a mixture of Surrey Wildlife Trust staff and 37 trained volunteers.

Of those, forty-four surveys took place on sites with past records of water voles and the remaining 20 were on areas either with suitable water vole habitat or anecdotal records of the species.

Sadly NO evidence of water voles was reported on any of the 64 survey sites.

It is believed the decline of the species in Surrey is due to predation from the invasive non-native American mink and the poor quality of potential water vole habitat. As many as twenty-two of the sites visited are currently unsuitable for water voles due in part to the way they are being managed.

The Trust will be continuing with surveys during the water vole breeding season (April-September) in 2016. However, the continuing lack of a positive vole record suggests the species is seriously threatened and may indeed be functionally extinct in the county as we feared.

The Trust aims to resurvey up to 200 sites in the county with historic records of water voles. The information gathered during this phase of the project will be used to inform a second stage of habitat restoration and to help coordinate mink control. If no water voles are found and we can suitably address the issues that have caused the decline of the species we will start planning a reintroduction program.

How you can help

Submit a water vole sighting in Surrey by completing our online record form on the Surrey Biological Information Centre (SBIC) website. You can also send photos or let us know via email to

Download our Know Your Vole ID sheet to help you spot signs for water voles.

Become a volunteer surveyor

Become a member and to fund our work to bring back Surrey's water voles




Thank you to Stephen de Vere for allowing us to use his video


FilenameFile size
SWT Water Vole ID Guide.pdf439.15 KB
Water Vole Habitat Maintenance Advice (Environment Agency).pdf234.26 KB