By Charlotte Owen
The staff garden at Woods Mill is home to a healthy population of bank voles. They supplement their natural diet of leaves, seeds, roots and flowers by hoovering up our lunch crumbs. Some are shy, only giving themselves away with the gentle rustle of ivy as they make their way through a hidden kingdom, harvesting the food that rains down from above. It’s riskier to come out into the open but they are small, speedy and agile enough to dart out in a flash of chestnut fur to claim a choice morsel. The boldest are happy to be lured out by a well-placed slice of banana, popping their head up to grab the prize before zipping back into the undergrowth to feast in safety.
As a result, our resident voles are getting rather rotund and this proved fatal for at least one unlucky rodent. A chance glance out of the office window was rewarded with the spectacular sight of a kestrel plummeting out of the sky and crashing into the garden, right in the middle of prime vole territory. A few moments later, it emerged with a sizeable vole in its talons and flew off in the direction of the nest box in the meadow. No doubt the vole made a substantial meal for this year’s kestrel chicks but I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad about the loss of one of our (not so) little furry friends.
Bank voles may be near the bottom of the food chain but they are essential to the survival of a wide variety of predators. Together with their more secretive cousins, the field voles, there are more than 150 million of them in the UK and they feed foxes, weasels, stoats and owls as well as hungry kestrels. Few voles live longer than a year, so in typical rodent fashion their main aim in life is to reproduce as rapidly as possible. In a good year they can easily have four or more litters, each with three to five young, so our garden population will soon bounce back and there will be plenty of voles to go round.