Spotting the water voles of Whitchurch in a car park

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Media captionRare water vole colony filmed by a Tesco supermarket

Water voles may be one of the nation's favourite mammals, but they are notoriously hard to spot in the wild.

They are very shy and sharply declining in numbers.

Unless you are lucky enough to live in Whitchurch, Shropshire, where you can spot them while doing the weekly shop.

The town is a little sanctuary for water voles, with several populations that live around a brook that runs next to the car park of a local supermarket.

Image caption The water voles can be spotted from this bridge

I went to meet @VoleWriter (better known as Kate Long) to see if she could help me spot one.

We stood together on the small pedestrian bridge over the brook and waited.

And while we waited a stream of shoppers came up to ask if we were vole spotting.

It's clear the people of Whitchurch are big water vole fans and proud of their large local population.

Not bothered

Image caption And here’s another one

The stream through the supermarket car park is perfect water vole territory.

A sandy bottom to the water, soft banks to burrow into and plenty of vegetation to eat.

But it has one other major advantage, according to Kate.

She thinks the local mink prefer the linear habitat of the nearby canal which bypasses Whitchurch.

Image caption The water voles live next to this busy supermarket car park in Whitchurch

So with almost no mink to worry about, the population on this brook has boomed.

They don't seem at all bothered by the cars and shoppers they live next to.

After a short while, Kate pointed out something furry and brown running along the edge of the water.

It was my first wild water vole sighting!

They're much rounder than a brown rat, more like a guinea pig size and shape.

It was a brilliant moment for me (although we didn't catch it on our camera sadly, so on Midlands Today we'll be relying on Kate's excellent footage).

Shopping and spotting

You can find out plenty more about the water voles of Whitchurch on Kate's blog.

For her, the town and her pupils at Criftins Primary School, the water voles of Whitchurch are an important part of the local ecosystem.

There's even a local Whitchurch water vole group.

Whitchurch is also a great place to spot the other signs of water voles, like their "Pringle tube sized" burrows and the neat way they nibble through plant stems at a 45-degree angle.

But the best thing about water voles in Whitchurch is you don't just see evidence of a population.

As I discovered, it is wonderfully easy to actually see one.

So if you go supermarket shopping in Whitchurch keep your eyes peeled.

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