Although called ‘Ratty’, the bossy but beloved creature in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows was actually a Water Vole.
These shy and vulnerable mammals have chestnut-brown fur, a rounded nose, small ears and a furry tail.
Selsey is very lucky to have a population of these critically endangered creatures as the general population fell by almost 90% in the years between 1989 and 1998.
Where and how to spot a Water Vole in Selsey
Water Voles live along rivers and streams or by ponds and lakes in burrows, in Selsey they can be found at East Beach Pond and at RSPB Medmerry.
They are excellent swimmers and divers who feed mainly on grass and other riparian vegetation.
Look very closely and you may see a pile of nibbled grass stems by the edge of the water, the ends cut at a distinctive 45-degree angle. If you disturb one eating or on the bank, listen closely and you may hear them disappear into the water with a characteristic ‘plop’.
Did you know?
Breeding season begins in March and lasts through until October, the females producing between two and five litters of up to eight young. The young are born blind and hairless but reach maturity quickly, leaving their mothers after approximately one month.
The Water Vole is such an endangered species due to the loss or bad management of their natural habitat, including water pollution, plus the accidental introduction of the American Mink who have bred ferociously and are a very effective predator. In November 2016, a £545,300 Heritage Grant was given to the Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group for a project to improve and enhance wetland habitats.
If you are lucky enough to see Water Vole in Selsey, this could be an unique experience as there is a real risk that these wonderful creatures may become extinct in much of the country in the coming years. They have been classified as 'endangered' on a new 'red list' of animals released by the mammal society and The Sussex Wildlife Trust has estimated that 90% of the county's water vole population has been lost in the last 30 years.