Orkney voles     (Microtus arvalis orcadensis)



Orkney voles are a subspecies of the common vole, and have developed over thousands of years on the Orkney Islands in Scotland. They look very similar to the field vole but are larger and have shorter, paler brown fur. Their ears are almost bald inside but furry at the top. Orkney voles are active both day and night, but especially at dusk and dawn. They run quickly and often stand up on their hind legs to scan their surroundings. They burrow shallow tunnel systems and small chambers in which to nest and store food. They usually have a pause every three hours when they return to their grassy nests to sleep or sometimes they take short naps in their tunnels. They are also good swimmers. They are an important food source for the birds of prey on the islands.


Breeding Two to twelve tiny young per litter are born between March & September and each female usually has between two and four litters per year. The males spend time with the young, which become independent after about 20 days. Young voles can breed from the age of three weeks.


Diet Mainly grasses and herbaceous plants.


Habitat  Mainly grassy banks along roads and ditches and grazed pastures but also found on moorland and in bogs. They are not as reliant on long grass for cover as common voles, as they often burrow. They are also found using the stones of old ruined buildings as shelter, particularly ruined farms.


Predators & threats Hen harriers, stoats, kestrels and short-eared owls.


Status & distribution Orkney voles are only found on the Scottish islands of Orkney, but not Hoy or Shapinsay. The population is thought to be stable and they are even common in some places.


There is currently no conservation action targeted at this species. It is not protected by law (3).


IUCN Red List (September, 2009)  People’s Trust for Endangered Species - Orkney voles (August, 2002)

Macdonald, D.W. and Tattersall, F.T. (2001) Britain's Mammals: The Challenge for Conservation. The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Oxford University.

The Environment Agency. (1998) Species and Habitats Handbook. The Environment Agency, Bristol.

The Mammal Society