Volunteers across Dorset are being urged to take part in a national water vole survey.

Immortalised by Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, these native riverbank residents are incredibly cute, but sadly they are facing extinction in Britain.

The survey, which is part of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) National Water Vole Monitoring Programme, runs until June 15.

Volunteers are asked to simply survey a local river, stream, ditch or canal looking for water voles and record their findings online at www.ptes.org/watervoles.

The River Frome at Tincleton and the River Stour around Wimborne are recommended sites.

No previous experience is needed, as free online training and survey guides are provided.

This year more sites are available to be surveyed than ever before, making it even easier for volunteers to find a local waterway to survey either alone, or with a small group of friends or family.

Emily Sabin, water vole officer at PTES, said: “Water vole populations have plummeted by a staggering 90% since the 1970s.

"They are Britain’s fastest declining mammal and continue to face multiple threats including habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and predation from non-native American mink.”

“We need volunteers to help us find where water voles are living, how their populations are changing year on year, and crucially, where they’re in most need of conservation action. This data is vital to help save water voles and to ensure they one day become a common sight on our riverbanks again.”

Water voles have glossy dark brown fur and a blunt snout with small, black eyes. Their ears are rounded and almost hidden, and they have a furry tail.

To help save these charismatic creatures, volunteers are asked to survey one of the 400 pre-selected sites available just once a year in spring. If there isn’t a pre-selected site close by, new sites can be created.

Volunteers should listen out for the characteristic ‘plop’ of a water vole diving into the water or look for the signs they leave behind such as footprints, droppings, feeding signs and burrows. Any sightings or signs of American mink – a non-native invasive predator of water voles – should be recorded too.

To find out more, and to access the free online training, survey guides and to sign up, visit www.ptes.org/watervoles