A plague of voles

To those that have never seen one, voles are the short-eared, cuter version of a mouse. Despite their cuteness they can wreak havoc, as we've found out here on the Plants for Bugs plots

We've been taking reports of high levels of voles among our RHS members through the Gardening Advice service - but seeing was believing when we inspected the Deers Farm beds last week and found we too had been under assault.

Telltale signs

In a garden you might find bark gnawed away from the base of trees or shrubs, and soft fruit such as strawberries stolen and stashed elsewhere.

Here at RHS Garden Wisley, tell-tale signs were the myriad numbers of small (50p size - see image on left) holes coming out of the ground and low-growing plants with tunnels criss-crossed right through them.

Shallow rooted plants such as thrift (Armeria) just lifted away in our hands. Little piles of cut stems and seedheads are another giveaway. Control is never easy in an open site. Tree spirals can protect young woody plants and trapping might get a few individuals but in years when the population levels are high sometimes you just have to pick up the pieces and replace damaged plants.

After the initial horror of seeing beds that resembled a crazy golf course, we realised voles may not be our only unwanted visitors. Shallow scrapings at the base of perennials, exposing their (now nibbled) roots suggested rabbits too had managed to get in, despite rabbit fencing. Sure enough, small fibrous circular droppings (below right) confirmed our suspicions.

Read all about it!

On a more positive note, we are progressing well with the reviewing comments that have come back from the first results paper that we submitted before Christmas and hope very shortly to be announcing its publication.

And Dr Andy Salisbury and myself gave a presentation of the Plants for Bugs project and tour on the 25 March to a very learned and friendly group from the Society of Biology.

Read about the Plants for Bugs study

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.