Water voles and the law

Photo: Water Vole nibbling waterweed

Water Vole nibbling waterweed

Andrew Parkinson

Since 1998 the water vole has received legal protection through its inclusion on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), in respect of Section 9(4) only. This means that the water vole’s places of shelter or protection are protected, but not the animals themselves. Recently the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 enhanced this protection by inclusion of the term ‘recklessly’ in the offences quoted below. Furthermore, the current partial protection afforded this species is under wider review and may be extended in future. At present it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly

The Law in Practice

There are also certain limited scenarios where specific defences can apply. There is a statutory defence against prosecution if it can be demonstrated that:

This defence only applies if the person stops causing any further illegal actions as soon as practically possible once he or she realises they are occurring.

An example of the circumstances where this defence might be applicable would be a situation in which a developer is working in an area that was considered to have no water vole interest (based on the results of a previously commissioned field survey), but inadvertently damages a water vole burrow and subsequently stops work as soon as this is realised 1.


1 This explanation should be regarded only as a guide to the law. For further details reference should be made to the complete copies of the relevant acts.