Fast & Thorough Water Vole Surveys

Surveys from £200+VAT. Ensure you stay on the right side of the law when water voles may be present on your site. Water Vole Surveys & follow-up action plans.

Water Vole Surveys 

If you’re developing an area near a body of water, then the chances are you’ll need to complete a water vole survey to ensure you’re being compliant with your planning permission. Water voles are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), meaning their habitats are also protected and cannot be disturbed without the support of an ecologist. 

What is a Water Vole Survey? 

Water vole surveys are a method of collecting data and information about water vole populations on a development site before development begins. The aim of the survey is to first establish if water voles are present, second, how many water voles are present, and third, how to protect the water voles in the best way during site development. 

Our team of trained ecologists, surveyors, and consultants are all constantly up to date with the latest methods of data collection and information surrounding water voles and their habitats, making them the best placed team for developers to work with. We’re skilled, trained, and fully qualified to handle your water vole survey.

When is a Water Vole Survey necessary? 

If your development site is by a body of water and there’s a chance the work you carry out on site could disturb water voles or their habitat, then you’re legally bound to carry out a water vole survey to establish if there are any present and what you can do to protect them and their habitats whilst working on site.

Destroying or disturbing their natural habitat is an offence that could lead to a hefty fine and serious delays on site – so a water vole survey starting from £200+VAT with Indigo Surveys just makes sense. 

Water Vole population decline 

Water voles were once common all over Britain, but human activity means their habitats have been destroyed, and the introduction of the American mink (a known predator of water voles) has led to further decline. 

In some areas, it’s estimated that only 10% of previous water vole populations remain. As such, water voles are now protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) to ensure that water voles cannot legally be:

  • Killed 
  • Injured 
  • Sold 
  • Disturbed, OR


Have their habitats:

  • Blocked
  • Destroyed


Obviously site development threatens this, so a water vole survey is necessary to determine the best way to protect water voles and their habitat.

Where are Water Voles commonly found? 

If your site has any of the following bodies of water, then there’s a high chance water voles could be present:

  • Slow moving rivers
  • Large ponds 
  • Slow moving streams 
  • Water-filled ditches 
  • Freshwater marshes 
  • Wetlands 


They tend to prefer well vegetated areas where they’re able to create burrows, and they prefer steep, natural banks beside slow moving bodies of water. If a river or stream is channelled with concrete, then they’re much less likely to be present, as they prefer to be close to the water at all times so will usually burrow on the water’s edge. 

Signs a Water Vole may be present

Although you will need professional surveyors and ecologists to determine the full extent of your water vole population (if you have one) there are ways you can tell if water voles are present to begin with:


Burrows Water voles create small burrows along the edge of the water and in banks above it with a small diameter of between 4 and 8cm. These burrows will usually have shorter vegetation in front of the entrance, where the water voles have deliberately kept it short.
Signs of feeding The most obvious signs of feeding are different chewed lengths of vegetation, all with a unique 45 degree angle. These chewed grasses and reeds (among other vegetation) will usually be around 10cm in length, and will be piled together in their favourite feeding spots. 
Latrines Latrines are one way of water voles marking their territory and protecting their burrows. Latrines are essentially barriers created using their own droppings. Water vole droppings are 8-12mm long and are shaped like a cylinder with blunt ends.
Footprints Water voles also have distinctive footprints that are star shaped with five digits. Their hind footprints are usually easiest to spot with a typical size of around 3cm x 3cm. Look out for these on damp days where mud underfoot is more impressionable.
Natural pathways As water voles move around their habitat they create natural pathways or tunnels through the thick vegetation they prefer. You’ll see tunnels 5-10cm wide through the vegetation creating natural pathways to the water’s edge, their favourite feeding spot, or burrow. 
Sounds If you’re quiet in the area and sit close to the water, then you may hear the distinctive sound of a water vole entering the water from their burrow. It sounds exactly like a stone being dropped into water from a height, creating a plop sound when it does. 


Not seeing any of these signs doesn’t mean you don’t have water voles

In order to confirm that water voles are absent from your development site you will still need two individual site visits as part of the water vole survey. These will need to take place between April and September to confirm they aren’t present during the optimal breeding season where water voles will usually be most active if they are on your site. 

What does a Water Vole Survey cover?

Water vole surveys are typically split across 3 categories:

  • Habitat assessment
  • Water vole evidence collection
  • Mitigation plan

Habitat Assessment 

Here our surveyors will simply assess how suitable your site is to water voles, focussing on the vegetation in the area, where water voles may be able to burrow, and the speed of moving water. 

Even if it is determined that your site is most likely unsuitable to water voles, the second part of the survey will need to take place to see if any evidence of their presence can be found.

Water Vole Evidence Collection 

If no evidence of water voles can be found on two separate site visits from one of our surveyors between April and September, then their absence will be presumed and you’ll be able to continue your development as planned, uninterrupted.

If evidence of water voles is found, then a mitigation plan will be put in place. The ‘Signs a Water Vole may be present’ section above details the sorts of things our surveyors will be looking for and recording to collect evidence of a water vole’s presence or absence. This search will be conducted further upstream and downstream of the development, too, to ensure that water voles aren’t in the immediate area. 

Mitigation Plan 

Where evidence of water voles are present – based both on the data collected and the habitat suitability investigation – a mitigation plan will be created with one of our specialists to ensure your development can still continue, but in a more water vole-friendly way. 

Creating a mitigation plan is completely unique, just as all development sites are. Whatever the mitigation plan, Indigo Surveys can carry out a thorough water vole survey and then advise you on the best next steps to ensure your development gets back on track.