Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Water voles 'mistaken for rats'

Water voles
Surveys have shown water vole numbers in Suffolk are on the rise

A wildlife trust has warned that water voles are under threat in Suffolk from people who confuse them with rats.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust said it was concerned about a report of a person shooting "anything like a rat" on the River Blythe.

The trust said there were also fears of rat bait being laid near rivers in the county, which it said further threatened the protected species.

It urged people to learn the difference between water voles and rats.

Is it a rat or water vole?
Water voles have chestnut brown fur while rats have brown/grey fur
Water voles have a blunt snout and "chubby" face
Rats have larger, pointy ears while the ears of water voles are short and rounded
Rats are larger, with a body length up to 30cm

Penny Hemphill, Water for Wildlife officer with the trust, said: "We have had a recent report of somebody indiscriminately shooting 'anything like a rat that moves' on the River Blythe.

"This would be disastrous at any time of year but is particularly worrisome now at the start of the breeding season when the animals are at their most active.

"We are also concerned that rat poison is being laid by many rivers that have good and recovering populations of water vole and would strongly advise that any poison be set further than five metres from the river."

The trust said that at one stage water vole were considered to be the UK's fastest declining mammal but thanks to efforts by conservationists numbers have gradually increased over the past three years.

It said rats can be confused with water voles but on closer inspection have marked differences.

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