Watervoles living the high life


By Emma Hamilton


The animals are living in a small patch of grass on Beinn Eighe

A RARE furry mammal famous for living along the edges of rivers and burns has found a new home – halfway up a mountain.

Watervoles, immortalised as the character Ratty in the children’s book Wind in the Willows, has swapped its usual habitat for the high life.

A survey by Waterside Ecology, carried out last October, recorded a colony of water vole almost 2,300ft up on Beinn Eighe in Wester Ross, a national nature reserve managed by Scottish National Heritage.

Doctor Lorna Brown, who led the team, said: “We found signs of 19 water vole colonies across the reserve, and it seems that the population on Beinn Eighe is in good health.

“One colony was living in a small patch of grassland the size of a dining table nearly 700 metres up the mountain. The voles would have had to travel hundreds of metres over rocky terrain to search this out.

“These tiny colonies might just consist of one female and her offspring, and adults rarely survive to breed two years in a row, so it is vital for the voles to move around to find mates and recolonise these scraps of good habitat.”

The spread of the non-native American mink has been the main threat to water voles environment. The voracious predator can wipe the voles out over whole river catchments.

Peter Duncan of SNH said that there are currently no signs of mink moving in on the reserve, but stresses the need to remain vigilant.

He added: “We have been setting live traps to monitor for the presence of mink along with other estates in the area to support the Scottish Mink Initiative which is running just north of here.”