Create simple water vole habitats in your garden

It’s easy for gardeners to create a refuge for the UK’s declining water vole population and other wildlife.
water vole
Numbers of native water voles are falling due to loss of habitat.

The water vole is a native species that is at great risk due to loss of habitat, predation by mink and lack of awareness from us as homeowners/gardeners. It is easy to see why is gets such a bad rub from humans; to the untrained eye, it can easily be mistaken for a rat. Water voles are not unclean and they can help balance the eco system around any water feature you have on your land.

To try and halt further population decline and encourage water voles to expand their range across cities and in the wider countryside, you can make some small changes to how you manage your outdoor spaces.

Creating wetland habitats in gardens can help to reduce the fragmentation of populations and will not only help water voles. It can benefit a range of other species such as dragonflies and amphibians.

Here are our top tips for a water vole friendly garden:

If your garden backs on to a stream, river, canal or other watercourse:

  • Leave a buffer strip – ideally two metres or more wide – of grasses and other plants along the water’s edge to provide food and cover for water voles.
  • Mow the buffer strip once a year in autumn to limit scrub colonisation and increase plant diversity.
  • Keep banksides open to encourage the lush grasses and other green plants water voles favour.
  • Consider coppicing existing trees and shrubs to increase light levels if appropriate.

If your garden is close to a river, stream, canal or other watercourse:

  • Create a pond with an adjacent wetland area, lining the pond in the traditional way with clay if you can, rather than with butyl or other synthetic materials.
  • Site your pond away from overhanging trees and check the location of service cables and drains before digging!
  • Give your pond a varied bank profile, with banks of around 45 degrees for water voles, and shallower sloping areas that can utilised by amphibians and invertebrates.
  • Ensure that the pond has areas where water is 25cm to 50cm deep.
  • Ensure there is open space approximately 10cm deep along the base of at least one garden boundary to allow access for water voles and other wildlife.
  • Create a shelf around the edge of the pond that can be planted with marginal plants such as Yellow Flag Iris and rushes.
  • Use the Natural History Museum’s postcode plants database to find help choosing suitable native plants for your pond.
  • Make sure that you don’t buy any non-native invasive aquatic plants for your pond. Check they haven’t unwittingly been introduced in the past, here’s some advice and information on which plants to avoid.

Top tips for water use your garden:

Water is a finite resource and correct water use in the garden is vitally important to help reduce its waste. You can help by:

  • Using a mulch on the garden to help keep the ground moist and reduce evaporation.
  • Using water retaining products in pots and hanging baskets.
  • Not watering established trees, shrubs or lawns – they just don’t need it.
  • Watering plants directly around the roots.
  • Collecting rainwater from down pipes and guttering for watering the garden.
  • Only watering new lawns for around four weeks – established lawns don’t need watering.

If you liked this guide far building water vole habitats, you’ll find more tips to encourage garden biodiversity on our gardening channel.

Last modified: August 1, 2021

Written by 3:18 pm Gardening