Watching for water voles
Water voles are the chubby, endearing but elusive mammals of our wetlands and waterways. Back in 1908 the most famous water vole appeared in the tale Wind in the Willows, but did you realise the character Ratty was actually a water vole? To tell one apart from a rat look for a short hairy tail, small ears, and a plump appearance!
Water voles have suffered a catastrophic decline with numbers down by around 90% in 30 years. This is mainly from losing their habitat because of the way we manage our rivers, ditches and canals. The good news is that water voles have been found back in Warwickshire! So wildlife trusts are helping keep them here by improving the places they like to live!
Take a summertime canal-side walk looking for tell-tale signs of water voles nearby. Watch out for distinctive star-shaped footprints in mud close to the water, made by their four-toed front feet. Get up close to grasses and look for stems with the tops nibbled off at a precise 45-degree angle. One other sign is their droppings – these are the size of tic-tacs with a rounded tip and they don’t even smell! Even if you don’t spot one you might hear the distinctive plop of a water vole dropping into the water.
Summer with a sting in the tail
Unloved by many, the distinctively stripy and aggressive wasp is a frequent summer visitor to gardens. Wasps are fierce predators and they hunt many insects that are thought of as pests, like aphids and flies. Colloquially known as jaspers to many Midlanders (though debate continues as to why!), the Common Wasp is social and lives in large colonies.
Having survived the winter the queen begins building the colony’s nest using wood scraped from trees, fences or even cardboard boxes. She chews it, mixing it with salvia to create a moist paper that sticks together. As the colony grows other wasps help to build and it grows all summer, eventually housing up to 5,000 wasps!
Solitary wasps are different and, as the name suggests, they live alone and also use their sting in a different way – to hunt! Surprisingly nearly every insect pest around the world is preyed upon by a type of wasp, sometimes for food, other times as host for their larvae!
Your summer wildlife project
Love seeing butterflies? Try attracting more to your garden with a feeding station! Simple to make with a few materials and sugar solution you may lure new species of these fluttering beauties. Secure four metal screw eyes into the corners of a 30cm square piece of plywood. Thread a one metre length of string through two of the eyes, over a branch and knot together. Repeat on the other side and check its level. Dissolve sugar in hot water and leave to cool before pouring it carefully into jam jar lids. Decorate your table with flower cut from coloured card and place the lids on top. Then sit back and watch for butterflies!