Posted: 16 May 2014
There are holes! They are appearing in the bank of the lake near the house. They are all almost identical in appearance, about 2.5-3 inches in diameter and many with a rim of dead bleached grass around the mouth, seemingly caused by having the roots chewed away from the inside as whatever is digging them emerges into the air. It seems that either more have appeared over the last few days or, maybe, I am just looking out for them now or getting better at spotting them.
You should be able to make out two of the holes in this picture. Not really visible is a third hole, within six inches of the one on the left, hidden by the fresh grass but given away by the larger area of bleached grass on that side.
It was a week or so ago that I first noticed them and those first ones were as close to the house as they could be. As last year, it had reached the point where loose strands of pond weed were accumulating in the lake and, being blown into the corner by the irises that grow by the decking behind the house. Last year I took to scooping the weed out of the lake with a rake and I attempted to do the same this year. As before, I stood on the very edge of the bank and immediately realised the bank was exceptionally soft and began to give way. I didn't dare tackle the job for fear I would fall in so I gave up. The bank hadn't been like that last year!
It was only on my second attempt, a day or so later, that, once again, I began to feel the ground giving way under me. This time I looked down and realise that there were three or four of the holes I describe within a couple of feet of where I was standing.
Since then more holes have appeared. Each day they reach further along the bank and today they were in the relatively short grass, the burrows emerging from under the second fishing stand. All the holes previously have been hidden in the rapidly growing weed that we have avoided mowing to discourage the geese from coming ashore. I only discovered the first holes because I trampled a small area of weed as I placed my feet before wielding the rake to clear the pond weed from the water.
I did think about taking photos previously, but up till today the holes have only visible from almost directly above and only after you have pushed aside the weeds. This makes it almost impossible to get a natural view of them with any sense of scale. Today's new holes were so obvious that I finally decided they were worth taking.
I've lost count, but reckon there must be around twenty of the holes that I have now seen, all within about three feet of the edge of the water but now stretching some twenty yards out from the house. The photograph shows the holes that are furthest from the house.
My immediate reaction was that they must be the holes of water voles. Searching the web I found a good number of photographs that seem to support that identification. However, I still find it hard to believe that water voles would choose to start their burrows as close to the house as you could get.
I hope someone can tell me if there really is an endangered species living so close to Ruston House.
Having said that a couple of times recently, I have spotted a newt by the gate onto the decking. The ones I spot move incredibly fast and disappear through gaps in the paving slabs or into a rather smaller hole than those I have been describing above, more the size that a mole might dig, that is right next to the gate post. It's because they move so fast that I haven't been able to capture them on camera.
I finally took to the boat today, armed with a rake, and started clearing the pond weed. It was while doing this that I confirmed that there are a good number of holes in the vertical face of the bank throughout the area where the holes can be found ashore.
It reinforces the idea in my mind that they are the holes of water voles. I read on The Wildlife Trust's Web Site that I should be looking for piles of nibbled grass and stems found by the water's edge, showing a distinctive 45° angled-cut at the ends and possibly 'latrines' of rounded, cigar-shaped droppings. I guess I had better look again!