A SAD picture for Buckingham-shire's water voles was revealed this week in an annual survey published by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust.

According to the survey, the county's water vole population is still struggling to increase after it dramatically dropped several years ago.

Between 2001 and 2003, surveys revealed a 98 per cent decline in the water vole population at the River Chess between Chesham and the M25.

A survey of the Aylesbury and Wendover arms of the Grand Union Canal and Bear Brook, a former stronghold of the creature in the county, showed no signs of the creature this year.

Cat Shellswell, water vole project officer at the trust, said: "Right across the UK the Wildlife Trusts are working with other organisations to try to restore the water vole population to the same level as in 1990 by 2010."

With the help of volunteers, the trust is trying to do everything it can to help increase the population of these elusive creatures which are found on rivers, canals, ditches, streams and ponds.

Ms Shellswell explains: "Over the coming year we will continue to carry out surveys and advise landowners on how best to manage waterside habitats for the water vole."

She added: "Another priority will be tackling the biggest threat to this shy creature, the American mink which was introduced to the country in the 1930s for fur farming."

Loss of habitat is a key factor in the decline of water voles as is confusing them with brown rats.

Water voles are sometimes accidentally poisoned because people think they are rats, but water voles have a hairy tail and ears and have a more rounded nose than rats.