What are the differences between Mice and Voles?Water Voles by Stuart Canha

Generally mice have pointy noses and prominent eyes and ears. Voles have blunt noses, small eyes and their ears are hidden in their fur.

How many types of Vole are there and how do I tell the difference?

There are three types of Vole in Britain:

  • the Short-tailed or Field Vole
  • the Bank Vole
  • the Water Vole, which is the rarest of the three.

The Short-tailed Vole and the Bank Vole have smaller bodies than the Water Vole.

The Short-tailed Vole has a tail length approximately 30% of its body length, giving it its' name.

They are often a greyish-brown or yellowish-brown colour with a pale grey underside. They are found in most habitats, although they are commonly most abundant in rough grassland, as grass is their only food source. The avrerage life span of a Short Tailed Vole is under 1 year so the population turnover is rapid, with many litters being born to each female a year.

The Bank Vole is more of a chestnut brown colour, and their ears are larger than that of the Short-tailed Vole, they are also distinguishable from the Short-tailed Vole by their white underside. Bank Voles live in areas where there is good ground cover, however are less abundant in open grassland.

Water Voles

Water voles are a similar size to Brown Rats with a body length between 14cm and 22cm and a tail length between 9.5cm and 14cm. They are distinguishable from Rats by their blunt noses and short rounded ears, Water Voles have chestnut-brown fur and a long hair-covered tail and they also make the noise of a marked 'plop' when they enter the water. The ears of a Brown Rat stand out, and they have naked tails.  Water voles are found in the well-vegetated banks of slow flowing rivers, ditches, lakes and ponds. They build extensive burrow systems in the banks of the waterways and established vegetation and grasses from the waterside.

Water voles are a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species as their populations have undergone a dramatic decline nationally due to predation by American Mink and habitat loss.  DWT carry out county-wide water vole surveys every five years to take a 'snapshot' of the status of this mammal in the county.   All this information is being fed into the National Water Vole Mapping Project.   Dorset contains Core Area populations of water voles in the Lower Frome, the area around Gillingham, the Wey & Jordan and the Bride & Brit, as well as other smaller populations.

DWT works with the gamekeeping community and organisations such as British Association of Shooting and Conservation and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to promote best practice in controlling mink (Wildlife Trust Mink Control Policy available) and to advise landowners on how to manage riparian habitat for water voles (fact sheet available on request).

What is the legal protection of the Water Vole?

The water vole is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended.)

It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place that Water Voles use for shelter or protection, or to disturb Water Voles while they are using such a place.

Water Vole Records

If you see water voles please send in details of where you saw them with a 6 figure grid reference, the name of the river or stream and your contact details to Rachel Janes (DWT Rivers & Wetlands Conservation Officer)  or telephone 01305 264620.


Water Vole photograph by Stuart Canham
RJ 120811


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