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Protected Species:


Legal Protection

Water voles have suffered a large decline over the past few decades (up to 94%) and as such receive partial protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

In Scotland it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used by water voles for shelter or protection.

Water voles are also protected against disturbance while within such structures.

As water voles are only partially protected in Scotland, it is not an offence to possess water voles or parts of water voles.

Survey Timings

April to October

Licensable Issues

Basic surveys for water voles do not require a licence, provided that steps are taken to avoid intentionally or recklessly disturbing animals in their burrows, or damage to burrows.

If disturbance cannot be avoided or if scientific or research work could otherwise result in an offence in relation to water voles then a licence will be required.

Licences for social, economic or environmental reasons (including development) can also be applied for as long as

  • the licensed activity will contribute to significant social, economic or environmental benefit

  • there is no satisfactory alternative

  • there will be no significant negative impact on the conservation status of the species


If water voles are likely to be present on or near to a site, then ideally a suitably experienced person should conduct a survey. If water vole burrows are found then a Species Protection Plan should be created.

Translocation of water voles requires a licence. Before this can be issued, evidence must be provided for matters such as the:

  • providence of the water voles to be released

  • carrying capacity of the receptor site

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