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When I first set out with my wildlife sketchbook some 30 years ago water voles were reasonably common along the canal and adjoining ditches. These sketches are from the summer of 1975. When I disturbed one alongside the canal I'd hear a plop, then see a trail of bubbles as the vole swam away underwater. But occasionally as I sat quietly sketching, one would come out and start nibbling grass. They are short-sighted creatures, so if you are careful you can get quite close to them. They remind me of little beavers. They can grow to about a foot (30 cm) long, including the tail.
Their burrows can damage earth banks. I notice that crates of bricks have been used to strengthen the banks of the stream nearby for an extension to one of the greens of Low Laithes golf course.
One of their last local strongholds is, or was, Balne Beck which flows through a relict piece of countryside known as Alverthorpe Meadows. Roger Gaynor tells me that a few years ago he could expect to see five voles here. The last time he checked he could find only one. We saw none today.
The species is in decline across the country. I would guess the reasons might be;