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Although there is no specific allowance under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as ammended) to carry out activities that may cause disturbance for the purposes of development to water voles under licence, it still possible to carry out works where water voles are present.

A conservation licence can be sought from Natural England to allow for certain activities in order to safeguard water voles during development.  The licence can allow for activities such as displacement of the water vole population to trapping and translocation to another area away fromt he impacts of the development.

Displacement can involve the removal of suitable vegetative habitat followed by, after a suitable period of time, a destructive search of burrows to ensure that there are no water voles present.

Trapping and translocation involves the installation of vole proof frencing around the area affected by the development, the installation of vole traps and the movement of trapped individuals to an area on site set aside for water vole management or an area of site as part of a captive breeding programme.

For some projects it might be necessary for captive individuals to be supported over winter before release at an appropriate time in spring.  Projects involving water voles can be complex and this is a reflection of the lack of licensing for disturbance for the purposes of development.  They are, however, easier to deal with when early consultation is had between the client and a suitably knowledgable ecologist.  Substatial delays can occur if such consultation is not sought early on the planning process.

Guidance on water voles can be sought from the excellent Water Vole Conservation Handbook Third Edition that can be bought direct from Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.

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