Protected species: water voles

The water vole, a rare species that has previously suffered significant declines in population and range, is protected in Scotland.

The water vole receives partial protection under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

Read the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Schedules 5 and 6

In Scotland, this legal protection is currently restricted to the water vole’s places of shelter or protection and doesn’t extend to the animal itself. Full protection, to also cover the animal, is proposed.

You can see our summary of offences in relation to this protected species below. For the definitive list of offences, you should consult the actual legislation.

Discover more about the water vole and how it lives.

Offences: wild water vole

It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly:

  • damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place that water voles use for shelter or protection
  • disturb a water vole while it is using any such place of shelter or protection


Licensing allows named individuals to carry out actions that could otherwise constitute an offence. If you’re planning any activities that could affect water voles, you must make sure you stay within the law.

Find out about water voles and licensing.

Learn more about licensing.

Find out more

Protected species known to occur naturally in Scotland and their protection

Protected Species Advice for Developers: Water vole


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