Max Stobbs called today to inform me that he thought he’s spotted a water vole at Belston. It appears he’s seen it a few time in front of the cabin which made me suspect it may be a rat so I asked him for a photo to confirm it’s identity. Both photos below were taken by Max.

Sure enough when I saw the pictures, there was no doubt that it was indeed a water vole which is great news for the species in Ayrshire. I’ve often thought that Belston Loch would make a great location for these rare wee animals as the habitat offers great nesting opportunities in the reeds and some of the banks are ideal for burrows although I’ve never seen any. I do suspect that they will build nests above the water line in the reed beds (a less common nest than burrows) and I will now keep an eye out for these as I’ve never seen one before.

'The Belston Water Vole' just in front of the cabin. Lets hope this is just one of many. I'll have a look.

‘The Belston Water Vole’ just in front of the cabin. Lets hope this is just one of many. I’ll have a look.

As a boy I used to see them regularly on the Pow Burn at Prestwick but escaped mink have largely wiped them out across the Country. Ayrshire populations crashed and the last known lowland population in South Ayrshire was lost in 2009 after an unfortunate dredging incident. ART restocked that location over 2010 and 2011 and established a small population which we believe is still surviving at low densities. Around that time I spotted a single animal on the lower River Irvine so they were still managing to survive there.

We stocked the Slaphouse Burn in Ayr but haven’t seen any field signs recently although they may still survive. Airds Moss on the upper River Ayr and the Glenmuir water have both produced reports of these animals occasionally but we haven’t seen any signs ourselves. Another location we stocked was near Barskimming in a small pond where the habitat was excellent. As yet we haven’t been able to establish whether they remain there or not. Essentially the animals have the best chance of surviving where mink aren’t present. Remote locations where there’s no obvious route in for mink make the best locations to stock but typically, the animals make the decision whether to stay at the stocked locations regardless of how ‘perfect’ we think they are. I suppose stocking always carries the risk that the animals just don’t like the habitat and disperse.

With Belston now recorded as a water vole habitat, I’ll try to find a way to survey the surrounding area. I know in 2008 the pylon route that’s ¬†currently being constructed just 1/2 mile from Belston was surveyed and old burrows recorded not more than a couple of miles away. In Kyle Forest nearby, burrows again were recorded so there is a history of the animals nearby. I’ll keep the blog updated if I can find any more evidence of where they may be nearby. In the meantime, I’ll try and get a mink trap and raft to Max to make sure¬†any mink that might arrive are quickly caught before they do any damage.

This wee water vole wasn't too bothered about Max taking a photo of him from just a few feet away. Typically they aren't too wary of humans.

This wee water vole wasn’t too bothered about Max taking a photo of him from just a few feet away. Typically they aren’t too wary of humans.

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9 Responses to Water vole spotted at Belston

  1. Martin says:

    When I was a boy, water voles were so common on the Slaphouse Burn, that local kids used try to hunt and catch them – this never had much impact upon the population!! It is odd that the re-introduction in 2010/11 was not successful, as the habitat should have been suitable. Indeed the water quality of the burn may be better now. I remember it being polluted with sewage in the past. The only time I have seen a water vole recently was two or three years ago at Loch Bradan – a smallish rodent swimming in the margins of the loch which I assumed to be a water vole, but couldn’t get a very good view as it was quite late in the evening and getting dark. Great to hear of these recent sightings though – let’s hope mink trapping and re-introductions can give these creatures a chance to re-populate the area.

    • Stuart Brabbs says:

      The reintroduction may not be a total loss as we just haven’t got the time to monitor this population properly due to a lack of available funding. Also good to hear that you may have spotted one at Bradan. I’ve no doubt that they are in the burns in between Loch Doon and Braden so no real surprise they are there but good to hear of one.

  2. Random22 says:

    Oh this is good news. About the point re: mink. How big a problem are Mink in Ayrshire, and the Irvine in particular? I remember that back in the 1980s everyone was going nuts about mink on the Irvine, but I never knew personally whether it was a big threat or just another panic.

    • Stuart Brabbs says:

      Mink have been a huge problem and the single largest factor in the decline of watervoles across the UK. The other main factor is habitat fragmentation. Mink also take a fair amount of fish from our rivers and undoubtedly predate on birds and small mammals. Bearing in mind that they aren’t native, removing them is worthwhile but needs a coordinated and strategic approach. Fortunately a few watervoles manage to survive in the lower Irvine but they would benefit from mink control.

  3. colin douglas says:

    I have saw watervoles regularly for the last few years on the river doon at waterside. Only ever saw one mink and that was the last day of last season.

    • Stuart Brabbs says:

      I had a report about 3 years ago of watervoles near Patna so once again it’s good to hear that a few manage to survive in the upper Doon.

      • colindouglas says:

        I emailed a photo of one to ATR a couple of years ago but heard nothing back

        • Stuart Brabbs says:

          Colin, we couldn’t have received it or I would have known about it. Many things can go wrong emailing pictures so please don’t think we just ignored yours or any other contribution, we never do. If you still have the picture, resend it to stuart@ayrshireriverstrust.org stating where it was photographed and when. If you don’t receive acknowledgement in a day or two, it probably means we didn’t get it.

  4. colindouglas says:

    No dont have the photo anymore it was on an old phone. It was probably something I done wrong when I tried to email it. I remember trying to send it because I had read an article on here about watervoles a few years ago. Anyway they are still alive and kicking at waterside, hope it can stay that way.