It’s rare for me to work for private individuals and even rarer for me to do a water vole survey. But this was quite a nice one to do – just a small job surveying a brook which formed part of the edge of a private landholding. The landowners had noted that the bank of the brook seemed to be eroding and had commissioned advice on erosion control measures they could implement to prevent their garden falling away into the brook. In places the brook bank was quite close to the house, too, so I understood how keen they were to get this sorted!
The erosion control consultants had suggested a modern geotextile technique generally approved by the Environment Agency for small projects, so the next step was to apply to the Agency for the appropriate permit. At which point it turned out that water voles had been recorded in the local area and that a water vole survey was therefore needed to inform the permit application.
I got involved when the client asked another ecological consultancy for a quote and found that it was over their budget. They came to me hoping that as a freelancer I would charge lower rates, and happily I was able to do that, not least because the client agreed to be my second person on site for safety purposes. Usually I would ask another ecologist to join me as second surveyor, but in this case, given the budget constraints, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that as the client did not have budget for a second set of labour costs. I’ve never asked a client to be my second before, but this client was unusual – she works outdoors and is fully health and safety trained, so I was comfortable asking her to be my second person. We exchanged communications about risk assessment, emergency procedures and next of kin beforehand and then we were ready to start the survey.
The plan was that I would don my waders and walk through the brook itself to view both banks and search for any evidence of water vole, while the client watched from bank top, ready to intervene if I needed assistance or if there was an emergency. Pretty much the first thing I found when I got down to the water’s edge was a badger footprint, so we knew straight away that there was at least one protected species around!
I spent ages searching for any evidence of water vole, but I didn’t find anything. On the whole, the habitat wasn’t great, as the brook was pretty much fully wooded all along the stretch to be surveyed, so I suppose I wasn’t surprised there was nothing there. But we know that water voles can move into suboptimal habitat in good years when their numbers increase to beyond the carrying capacity of preferred sites, so I did agree with the Environment Agency that the survey had to be done.
There was no budget for a full data search, so I gleaned as much as I could from rECOrd’s public data and asked the EA if they would be willing to supply their own data to me for no charge, which they kindly did as well as accepting our budget limitations on the desk study.
After completing the survey report and conferring with the erosion control company and the Environment Agency, we all agreed that there was no need for any special precautions re water vole at this site, and the proposal was approved.