I took a couple of hours out from the office this afternoon, not really expecting to see very much. The sky was a leaden grey and there was a chill in the wind. I'm lucky enough, however, to be just a few minutes from the North Norfolk coast and some of the UK's finest nature reserves and other protected/managed areas. Among them are the Cley salt marshes and this strip of flood land just in from the sea rarely disappoints. As I stopped on a footbridge to photograph Marsh Harriers in the distance, I heard a 'plop' from the water below and turned just in time to catch my first sighting of a European Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius). The water was filled with reeds and other detritus trapped under the bridge and the light was awful, so the final image is horribly compromised and certainly not one of those award-winners where the Water Vole is perched on a pristine reed patch bathed in glorious light. But the Water Vole is becoming a rare sight these days and watching it as it pushed its rounded head through the water was a magical moment. The reasons for the Water Vole's dramatic decline are threefold: intensive post-war farming saw its habitat degraded; escapee American Mink from 1970s fur farms had an immediate impact; then, when presumably well-meaning but shortsighted animal rights protestors set thousands loose into the British countryside, the affect of the predatory American Mink on Water Vole populations was disastrous. The Water Vole population in the UK has fallen from an estimated pre-1960 level of around 8 million to 2.3 million in 1990 and to 354,000 in 1998. This alone represents a staggering loss of 90-95%, but numbers are still declining and the most recent estimate (2004) puts Water Vole numbers at just 220,000. As a spokesman for the Wildlife Ark Trust has put it: "Over the last 15 years or so, the Water Vole has undergone one of the most catastrophic declines of a species ever known in the UK – a far more rapid decline than that suffered by the charismatic mega-fauna of Africa or Asia – and it has happened here right under our noses."
Source: The Wildlife Ark Trust water vole conservation
Both Canon 1Ds MkII, 1/250 sec, f/8, 500mm at ISO 640