We had a great time with Rowenna Baker of Brighton University trapping water vole along the Chichester Canal in May. Sixteen different volunteers helped out over four days with morning and evening sessions, opening up the traps, checking the contents and resetting them.
Rowenna is looking at the dispersal of water voles in different habitats and how that affects the genetic diversity in the population. The Chichester canal was chosen as it has a continuous stretch of about 1 kilometre of water vole habitat and will reflect genetic diversity of this special peninsula population.
Once a water vole was caught we had the difficult task of transferring it into a bag. It was then weighed, sexed, its condition assessed, a hair sample taken for DNA and then pit tagged (micro chipped).
The weather was wet and the tow paths got very muddy but over the four days 15 individual water voles were trapped. The team had a huge amount of fun helping with this research and as well as seeing water voles close up and being handled they also saw many individuals swimming across the canal and on the banks.
It was a great opportunity for the volunteers that spend a lot of time surveying for water voles but never seeing these shy creatures, to get to study them at close quarters and to contribute to important scientific research.
Rowenna has carried out some analysis and has estimated an adult population of approximately 21 along that stretch with a density of about 1 water vole every 48 metres, which is good this time of year.
A more robust statistical analysis can take place in the autumn when we have carried out the next round of trapping and have more data. We will be able to see the growth of the population over this season, with lots of dispersal from the site so hopefully they can find suitable habitat in the surrounding farmland ditches!
Thanks again to everyone for their input.