We often get asked by students about research projects they can do at the Centre, and as long as it is not detrimental to the animals or the way the Centre works, we can usually help out. Currently we have a student of Nottingham University testing out a new surveying technique for water voles out on our nature reserve.
As you know, we have an abundance of voles on the reserve, all showing good field signs... coincidently the Surrey Wildlife Trust is actually running a course on water voles and their field signs here today... So Nick Mason, from Nottingham University, wanted to set up some water vole rafts on the reserve to monitor their activity. I will leave him to explain it a bit better...
"I am a Masters student at Nottingham Trent University studying Biodiversity Conservation. My dissertation is a study into the effectiveness of rafts as a survey method for determining the presence or absence of water voles. The water voles use the rafts as territory markers and leave droppings on them. Therefore, if you have droppings on the raft, you have water voles. We are hoping to prove that this method is more efficient than the current survey method, using field signs such as feeding piles, footprints, burrows and droppings. The field sign survey often takes a lot longer than the raft survey and also requires more skill in identifying the field signs. Additionally, many of these field signs can easily be missed, especially when the water voles are at a low population density. The raft survey should be able to detect water voles at these low densities.
My dissertation is part of a nationwide project, being led by Dr Richard Yarnell, to compare detection rates from traditional field sign and latrine-raft surveys at sites across regions of England to discover which method is most effective at detecting water voles. The data will provide an estimate of the current distribution of water voles across the selected regions and lead to survey guidelines that can be used by practitioners to reduce the chance of reporting false absence." - Nick Mason
So far Nick has seen many field signs of water voles, good news for us that our population is doing well, so hopefully they will co-operate and help him with his dissertation!