Water voles are often mistakenly called water rats, but they are only distantly related to rats. Water voles have a chubby face with a blunt nose and short furry ears almost hidden by long fur.

Water Voles and Humans

In Britain the water vole is regarded as inoffensive and harmless. Although the populations fluctuate widely, they rarely increase to a level where they do much damage - just occasionally their burrows undermine banks. In fact, it is thought that populations of water voles may be decreasing in Britain. This is probably due to the effects of habitat destruction and pollution of rivers and other water habitats.

Water voles are regarded as pests in continental Europe. “Plagues” of water voles sometimes occur and when this happens they eat so much vegetation that they reduce their environment to semi-desert, undermined by burrows and worn pathways. Crops are also attacked. Straight after this kind of event, the population drops dramatically, most likely due to a lack of food.

In Holland, water voles can be a serious threat to the tulip harvest as they eat the young bulbs in winter. In some areas, fruit trees may be attacked, the voles gnawing their roots so they wither and die.

In Russia, the water vole is hunted for its fur.

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