Are Water Voles a good indicator species?
What I think is opinion based on casual observations, I’m not a qualified scientist and I haven’t kept detailed notes on paper or in spreadsheets. Many years ago I did get accepted, as a mature student , to study Ecology at the UEA. However, I didn’t even last the first day! After arriving at UEA, being processed for my course and sitting my first lecture I went to the student bar and had a pint. I don’t know what was special about that pint, but I decided to get back into my borrowed car and go and buy a ticket to Australia so I could look for some real wildlife…and had some amazing adventures.
Anyway, I’m supposed to be writing about the question, that if I’m seeing lots of Water Voles in my local surroundings then is that a good indicator for the relevant local ecosystem? Well, certainly the local pair of Barn Owls and their three fledged young are doing very well. The Barn Owls have made good use of the relative abundance of Water Voles, it was noticeable that this was particularly the case during the first couple of weeks after the young owls hatched. After this time the owls seemed to vary the diet more, taking lots of smaller rodents. I’m pretty sure that I can work out the reason for this, but I’ll let you speculate on that one.
The fact that there are plenty of Water Voles around must mean that some things have gone in their favour, what are they? – a mild winter? the vegetation that they feed on has experienced good growing conditions? Yes, I believe those factors are true, but there is another vital factor. This as always, is the effect that humans have on their surroundings. In the general area where I live it appears that landowners are sympathetic to the existence of riparian zones.
I’ve read several statistics that nationally Water Vole and Barn Owl numbers have declined massively. Just by personal observations and the observations of others it leaves me hopeful that these two species seem to be showing good signs of recovery in parts of Suffolk and elsewhere.
So, what of the question I asked originally? well, my totally unscientific conclusion – surely the answer is obvious, yes they are a good indicator species. But maybe the most pivotal point that arises from the question is that we can provide nature reserves that act as a refuge for individual species and for ecosystems, but the volume of land that is in private hands makes partnerships with landowners a key factor in the preservation of our planets ecosystems. This is as relevant in Suffolk as it is in the Amazon basin.