Water voles and their burrows are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but Natural England can grant developers a licence that permits disturbance. In fact disturbance is the very name of the game; the licence allows vegetation to be removed from up to 50 metres of bank in order to drive water voles from areas where development is planned.
The licence, which operates between February and April, intends that the voles relocate before development begins and that, subsequently, the burrows, assumed to be empty by then, can be dug up to discourage any attempt at return. However, new research has shown that water voles do not, in fact, relocate.
The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit from Oxford University has used radio-tracking to show that water voles steadfastly stick to their burrows; no movement was recorded when the initial disturbance occurred. Presumably, when burrows were dug up under licence, the water voles that had occupied them died.
The Mammal Society says:
“We highlighted the urgent need for information on strategies intended to move water voles in our recent Water Vole Mitigation Guidelines. This research provides the evidence that removing vegetation — at least over distances of 50m or less — is not effective in moving water voles out of the way of development.”
In light of these findings, we hope that Natural England will review their licencing procedures; water voles will not relocate under their own steam.
If there are water voles living in the banks of the Lambrok in Southwick Country Park, it is very likely there are water voles living upstream of the park as well. Developers are eyeing up the sites adjacent to Lambrok Stream at Church Lane, Upper Studley and Southwick Court; several outline plans have been put forward in the last year. None of these have included mitigation strategies for the water voles or even admitted their presence. This latest research will make mitigation even more difficult.
Photographs of voles CC0
More about the Church Lane site:
Ecological appraisal of the Church Lane site