Water Vole

Arvicola amphibius

Photo credit: Scottish Natural Heritage


Body Length: 14-20cm

Tail Length: 9-14cm

Weight: 150-300g

Average life span: 0.5 – 15 years

Conservation status

Water voles are a priority conservation species and are fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in England and Wales. In Scotland, this legal protection currently includes water vole’s places of shelter but not the animal itself. Water Voles are a priority species under the post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

January to December


Water voles are the largest species of vole in Britain and are sometimes mistaken for brown rats, which can be found in a similar habitat. The water vole’s habitat is along rivers, streams, ditches around ponds, lakes, marches, reedbeds and areas of wet moorland.

Signs that a water vole is living in the area include burrows in river banks and lawns of nibbled grass cut at a 45 degree angle. Water voles like to sit in one area and eat in the same place. You may also find latrines of rounded tic tac shaped droppings. Water voles breed in the spring, having three to four litters of up to five young a year.

How to Identify

Water voles have a blunt, rounded nose, small ears, and a furry tail. It is much bigger than other vole species. The similar brown rat is larger, with grey-brown fur, a pointed nose, large ears that protrude from its fur, and a long, scaly tail.

Scotland’s water voles are genetically distinct from most of those in England and Wales. Voles south of the border originate from water voles from south-east Europe who recolonised Britain following the last Ice Age, whereas Scottish voles are descended from migrants from the Iberian Peninsula, with many having black fur rather than brown.

Water Voles by your Local River

Seeing the signs of voles is easier than seeing the animals themselves. Think you’ve spotted voles by your local river? We want to hear from you! Send your photos or stories to us at riverlife@forthriverstrust.org or at facebook.com/ForthRiversTrust