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Shooting Welsh wildlife; water voles - Nigel Addecott

(December 03, 2014)

Magor Marsh water voles

Water vole, Magor Marsh 

"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats"
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Though often mistaken for rats – and well-known to kids (big and small) as 'Ratty', the water rat, in Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows - water voles are, however, quite different, having small round ears, a blunt nose and a shorter tail.

A re-introduction program of this quite rare, beautiful rodent at Magor Marsh has, fortunately, been successful so far. Water voles are now returning from the brink, having been predated by mink (the decendents of fur-farm escapees) to near extinction. Although quite widespread across Europe as a whole, in Wales, they are far from it.

Water vole, Magor Marsh

Water vole, Magor Marsh Water vole, Magor Marsh

Water voles feed mainly on grass and plants near water. At times, they will also consume bulbs, twigs, buds, and roots, and they have quite a penchant for fruit, especially apples. Their presence is easily recognized by the gnawed bankside grasses and reed stems.

Water vole 8

Water vole, Magor Marsh Water vole, Magor Marsh

They live in waterside burrows, which they dig in the banks of slow-flowing lowland rivers and canals, or ponds and streams – wherever the water level is fairly constant. They build a ball shaped nest of grass and other plant material. The burrows have many floor levels, to hinder flooding, with nesting chambers and a food store for the long winter months.

Magor Marsh is a nationally important wetland reserve on the north shore of the Severn Estuary. Its 90 acres (36 ha) of flat coastal land, managed by Gwent Wildlife Trust, is the last area of natural fenland in southeast Wales. Water levels are controlled by a pattern of ponds and drainage ditches, known as reens, largely unchanged since the land was reclaimed from the sea in the 14th century. Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)*, Magor Marsh is part of the Gwent Levels 'Historic Landscape of Outstanding Historic Interest in Wales'**, that spans both sides of the river Usk, from the Rhymney River, at Cardiff, to the River Wye, at Chepstow. It is nationally important as a breeding ground for water and marsh birds, and particularly for the rare aquatic invertebrate assemblages and wetland plants found in its network of reens.

Its diverse habitats – wet woodland, meadow and reedbeds - support numerous, and some quite rare, species, including bumblebees, butterfilies, dragonflies, newts, resident and migratory birds, otter and … a small population of water voles, the main reason for Nigel's visit, as we can see from his charming images.

Water vole 9

Water vole 11

Sounds lovely, doesn't it? And it is. Its future, however, looks less rosy. The Gwent Levels are on the Welsh Government's preferred M4 relief road 'Black Route' - a proposed six lane motorway between Junction 23 at Magor to Junction 29 at Castleton (the A48M junction), to be built by 2022. Although the motorway will not pass directly through Magor Marsh – it passes about 700m to the west - it is certain to be affected:

  Polution will be caused by the building process and from the road's runoff, once completed; likely to seriously reduce water quality in the reens and wetlands;
  Irreparable damage is likely to be caused to the delicate ecosystem of the remaining habitats of the nearby SSSIs directly threatened by this proposal: Redwick and Llandevenny; Whitson; Nash and Goldcliff; and Rumney & Peterstone;
  Water movement within the wetlands will be impeded;
  Movement of wildlife within and between the Gwent Levels will be obstructed.


M4 relief road black route
M4 Relief Road draft plan, with affected SSSIs highlighted (in green)
Magor Marsh is to the east, southeast of M4 junction 23A, Magor

Magor Marsh nature reserve is open to the public with no entrance fee. Go see it … while you still can.

More information on Magor Marsh SSSI here.

* Natural Resources Wales (formerly CCW) citing: Magor Marsh SSSI

" Special features: Marshy grassland, neutral grassland, swamp, standing water and a wetland invertebrate assemblage.
  These types of habitats are very rare and found on more waterlogged ground. Much of the remaining marshy and neutral grassland in Britain is found in Wales and we have a special responsibility for its conservation. Like many of other types of habitats, most has been lost or modified through a combination of drainage, burning and excessive grazing. in the 20th century.
  As well as the feature listed above, Magor Marsh has other habitats that are essential to the maintenance of the special wildlife interest. These include hay meadows, willow carr and ponds. This diversity of habitats supports a wide range of species and these too are a key component of the special interest of the site."


** Cadw citing: Gwent Levels - Outstanding Historic Landscape

" The Outstanding Historic Landscape of Gwent Levels comprises three discrete and extensive areas of alluvial wetlands and intertidal mudflats situated on the north side of the Severn Estuary represent the largest and most significant example in Wales of a 'hand-crafted' landscape. They are entirely the work of man, having been recurrently inundated and reclaimed from the sea from the Roman period onwards. The areas have distinctive patterns of settlement, enclosure and drainage systems belonging to successive periods of use, and a proven and possibly quite vast potential for extensive, well-preserved, buried, waterlogged, archaeological and palaeoenvironmental deposits surviving from earlier landscapes."


 Nigel Addecott, December 2014

All images © Nigel Addecott ...
except: M4 Relief Road draft plan, © Welsh Government, reproduced under Open Government Licence v2.0

These, and many more, beautiful images are available on Nigel Addecott's wildlife photography website.

If you liked this, you'll also enjoy:
The Dinefwr badger sett, September 2014

Summer visitors, June 2014

The Puffins of Skomer Island, March 2014

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