Water vole protection
Water voles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Are we doing enough to ensure the protection of the reserve’s water voles?
The 1981 Act says that it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or capture a water vole. It is also an offence to damage, destroy, disturb or obstruct access to what the act calls a structure or place used for shelter or protection, in other words, its home or any of the tunnels and runnels a water vole makes through its territory.
 A water vole in the reserve’s tributary stream between the two bridges.  A water vole hole in the bank of the main Lambrok channel.
Header image taken in the reserve by Simon Knight
This means that it is an offence to disturb the reserve’s water voles, their holes or territories, or to knowingly let your dog disturb them. If your dog digs in the banks of the Lambrok or its tributary stream it is almost certainly digging up a water vole’s hole; if it hunts up and down any of the park’s waterways, it is probably hunting water voles. This is an offence, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment or a level five fine or both.
It’s not just the reserve’s visitors and dog walkers that might not be taking sufficient care of this species. Water voles are also listed as a rare and most threatened species under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006). The NERC Act makes it the duty of all local authorities to conserve biodiversity. This means that Wiltshire Council, Trowbridge Town Council and Southwick Parish Council should be acting to ensure the protection of water voles in Southwick Country Park Local Nature Reserve.
Just four of the nine S41 mammals on our species lists:  water vole (Arvicola amphibius)  hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)  otter (Lutra lutra)  lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros)
Section 41 of the Act refers to a published list of habitats and species (called S41 species) which are considered to be of principal importance for the conservation of the country’s biodiversity. As well as our water voles, we have eight more S41 mammal species on the reserve’s lists.
We need to be taking better care of our protected wildlife, calling our dogs away from water vole territories, asking the Parish Council how it informs Southwick residents of this important little nature reserve on their doorstep, telling Wiltshire Council to step up and defend our biodiversity by providing green spaces where people can exercise their dogs safely without endangering the wildlife.
Go safely and carefully through these dangerous times.
Our wildlife photographer, Simon Knight, has commented below.
There definitely does need to be more done to protect the water voles. A nature reserve is a place where wildlife is protected, sadly this doesn’t happen with the water voles in our reserve.
First of all, let me say that I am not having a go at dog owners, I would actually like a dog myself. But the fact is, many dog owners let their dogs go in the pond and the stream either side of the pond, which is where the voles are. But one of the problems is that many of these dog owners don’t even know that water voles inhabit these places, so it’s probably not fair to pin the blame on them for damaging this habitat.
I would like to think that if more people were aware of the wildlife in the reserve, then behaviour would change. However, I know that this wouldn’t be the case for everyone as I did try to educate one person who thought that his dog was chasing a rat in the stream. When I told him it was a water vole and that they were a protected species, he ignored me.
So how do we get behaviour to change? That should be quite simple – it’s through education. And that would be down to the Council. Information boards and signage explaining the rules of the reserve and what lives there would all start to make a difference. These would be small steps towards protecting the habitat and its wildlife, but they would at least be steps in the right direction.
Maybe guided walks around the reserve would help to give people a better understanding and appreciation of the wildlife. Just a thought.
This may ruffle a few feathers, but I think that the stream and pond should be a no-go area for dogs. The reserve is big enough to have at least one area where dogs are not allowed, and I think that Village Green including the stream and pond should be the area for this. It would give the water voles maximum protection. We would also probably see kingfishers, herons, egrets and other waterfowl spending more time in the area. And let’s not forget that this area is home to another protected species – the grass snake. How this would be achieved requires financing and a willingness from the Council. So sadly, I’m not holding my breath.
I could go on and on, but I think that’s enough moaning for now!
Two things come to mind, Simon. Firstly, you are right about putting up signs; if there were a sign at either end of the tributary stream that said WATER VOLES LIVE HERE, PLEASE LEASH YOUR DOG, nobody would be able to claim ignorance. Secondly, for several years, the county has been talking about a SANG (Suitable Alterative Natural Greenspace) to take the footfall pressure off Trowbridge’s nature reserves – we need to ask them why this hasn’t happened yet and when it IS going to happen.
Right on cue and exactly proving my point about educating the people that use the reserve, the following happened today.
My parents went for a walk in the reserve this morning and spent some time near the pond in Village Green. There was a dog that was in and out of the pond which jumped up at my dad, getting him wet and muddy. He commented that the dog should be under control and the owner said, “you do realise you are in a dog walking area”. My parents informed the dog owner that it was actually a nature reserve and the owner replied, “no, it’s a dog walking area”.
I think it takes quite a selfish person to believe that an area exists only for their personal benefit and also that is OK for their dog to jump at other people. This type of character would probably argue that you shouldn’t come to an area like this because you know that you will encounter a dog sooner or later. But as much as there aren’t any signs saying that the reserve is in fact a nature reserve, there also aren’t any signs saying the area is a dog park. The simple fact is that the reserve is there for everyone to enjoy.
The sad fact is that some people that come to the reserve do really only see it as a place to walk their dogs. They only see green fields. They don’t see what lives in the reserve.
As well as proving my point about education, I also think that this further strengthens the case for having specific areas of the park for dogs on and off the lead and also an area where dogs are not allowed. And again, with Village Green being home to water voles and with the wildlife that comes to the pond and is living in the pond, in my opinion, Village Green should be dog free.
The reserve is big enough for all of us to enjoy and big enough that it can be enjoyed whilst the wildlife is given maximum protection. If people aren’t prepared to make small sacrifices and effort for the benefit of wildlife in this small area of Wiltshire, then the future of all wildlife is surely pretty bleak.