A wildlife charity is calling on Somerset residents to join a national campaign to stop the water vole from becoming extinct.

The People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is launching its annual nation-wide survey which sees volunteers visit their local waterways to record the water vole population.

The semi-aquatic rodent is one of Britain's fastest declining mammals. The survey, which is part of the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, is part of the effort to combat the decline in the population of water voles.

Emily Sabin, Water Vole Officer at PTES, said: “Arguably the best-known water vole is Ratty from The Wind in the Willows. Yet, despite his prominence water voles continue to experience an ongoing decline, are listed as Endangered on the Red List for Britain’s Mammals and are now facing extinction in Britain thanks to historical agricultural intensification, habitat loss and fragmentation, and predation from non-native American mink.” 

“We’re asking volunteers to find their nearest stream, ditch, river or canal, and look out for water voles, listen for their characteristic ‘plop’ as they dive into the water, or see the signs they leave behind - from footprints and burrows in the riverbank to feeding signs and droppings. Any sightings or signs of American mink should also be recorded.” 

“Last year 216 sites were surveyed, with 85 showing signs of water voles. This builds on 2021’s data, where 116 sites were surveyed with 47 indicating water vole presence. We really hope even more people can take part this year to help us further understand how water voles are faring.

“No prior experience is needed, and we’re offering free online training and Zoom talks so that anyone can find out more and hopefully get involved. There are over 400 pre-selected sites volunteers can choose from, and if there isn’t a site nearby new sites can be registered. We have hundreds of fantastic volunteers who survey water voles for us every year, but given the severe decline water voles have experienced, more help is always needed.”

The data collected by volunteer surveyors will help to show where populations of water voles are residing, which can help target conservation efforts.

The animals were once a common sight along our waterways, but a variety of factors including habitat loss has resulted in a catastrophic decline.

To access free online training for the scheme, visit the PTES website.