Natural England - Water voles

Water voles

Advice, licensing and legislation relating to water voles.

water vole 250x167
Water vole © Paul Lacey/Natural England

Legal protection

Water voles are currently declining at a rapid rate. Water voles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) from killing or taking by certain prohibited methods. Their breeding and resting places are fully protected from damage, destruction or obstruction, it is also an offence to disturb them in these places.

For full details of legal protection always refer to the primary legislation and subsequent amendments.
There is, provision within the legislation to kill or take them, use prohibited methods or to disturb them or damage/obstruct their resting places in certain defined circumstances, if the issue cannot be resolved by any alternative means.

Please note that the legislation does not permit licences to be issued in relation to development of land for water voles; please see our leaflet for developers for helpful advice.

Advice and leaflets

Advice leafletSummaryAudience
Water voles - the law in practiceexternal link - NE86Practical advice regarding water vole protection to ensure that developments, which may impact on them, are carefully and appropriately planned.Planners, developers and consultants
Do I need a licence to survey for water voles?: (33kb)pdf documentAdvice on when a licence may be required for water vole surveys.Ecologists and volunteer surveyors
Water voles and development licencing policyexternal link - TIN042Provides information on the legal and licensing implications of the increased protection for watervole in 2008.Planners, developers and consultants
Water vole conservation handbook (hard copy only from Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, tel: 01865 271289)Reference for watervole conservation.Ecologists, wildlife managers

Frequently asked questions: (558kb)pdf document

Specific licensing guidance is included below in 'Licences and how to apply' next to the relevant application form

Licences and how to apply

Licences for activities prohibited under wildlife legislation are only issued for specific purposes, where there is valid justification. There are no specific General or Class Licences for this species, please apply for an individual tailored licence, each form below explains what you must provide. Licences and advice are provided free of charge (some exceptions).

See our licences page for more information on: who needs a licence, what types there are and how long they take to obtain.

Individual licences 


Water vole for science, education or conservation only form: WML-A29: (435kb)pdf document

Template for references: (74kb)word document

Guidance on references for applicants: (47kb)pdf documentWML-LR2930: (107kb)word document
Damage, disease and public health and safetyexternal linkReport form provided with licence

Enforcement and inspection

Please see our main enforcement and inspection page for more information.

Contact us

Please contact Customer Services Wildlife Licensing for further information and guidance.