WILDLIFE charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species is calling for volunteers to take part in its annual survey of water voles.

The first PTES National Water Vole Monitoring Programme was carried out in 2015, amid concern that the species had become the UK’s fastest declining mammal.

Four years on, PTES is still keen to find out where water voles are living and where they are most in need of conservation action.

With their glossy brown or black fur, small round eyes, blunt muzzle and furry tail, the trust described water voles as 'extremely endearing', but sadly, also extremely endangered.

There are various factors behind their decline, from loss and fragmentation of their natural habitat – streams, rivers and other fresh waterways – and agricultural intensification, to pollution of watercourses and predation by non-native American mink, the impact of which has been particularly devastating. Between 1989 and 1998 the water vole population crashed by almost 90%.

To help save this species, volunteers are asked to survey one of PTES’ 850 pre-selected sites across Scotland, England and Wales between now and June 15. New sites can also be registered if there isn’t a pre-selected site nearby. Once a site has been chosen or a new site registered, it just needs to be surveyed once and all sightings and signs of water voles along a 500m length of riverbank recorded online at: www.ptes.org/watervoles.

Volunteers need to register online and after that enter their postcode to find the closest survey site or register a suitable site near where they live. No previous experience is required, but those taking part will need to learn how to identify water voles and their signs, information about which is also on PTES’ website.

Last year, 249 sites were surveyed in Britain: 92 in Scotland (from the Highlands to East Ayrshire), 152 in England (from Cornwall to the North Pennines), and 5 in Wales, in areas such as Monmouthshire and Anglesey. Of these, 105 sites (42%) showed signs of water voles being present, and while that was encouraging, there are gaps in survey areas where PTES needs more help, including mid and south west Wales, the West Midlands, the South West (Somerset and Gloucestershire) and southern Scotland, to get a clearer picture of water vole numbers across the country.

PTES species officer Emily Thomas said: “Water voles used to be found in almost every waterway in England, Scotland and Wales, but sadly now their numbers are declining dramatically. These adorable mammals need all the help they can get, so we hope as many people as possible, in all corners of Britain, sign up to survey a site this spring. We use the data gathered to monitor population trends year on year, which in turn helps to guide our conservation work and inform us where action is needed most.”

To take part in the 2019 National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, and to find out more about water voles, visit: www.ptes.org/watervoles