Phil Pickin: A fragile comeback
walk‘s wildlife expert on the remarkable return of otters to our waterways…
It’s remarkable that the hunting of otters was only banned in Britain in 1978. Prior to that date, otters had not only been hunted but also suffered due to pesticides being washed into our waterways – so the relatively recent return of these endearing animals is something we should all be proud of.
Partly as a result of their reduction in numbers, and partly due to their naturally shy disposition, seeing otters hasn’t always been easy. Even now they are hardly commonplace but chances have increased. Having said this you could be lucky enough to see one or even a family if you are walking beside a river. The mere fact of seeing an otter is reason enough to celebrate but if you are lucky enough see one it’s a major indicator that the waterway in question is clean. As otters are a top predator their presence is proof that the water is clean and that their is an abundance of other wildlife.
The Environment Agency, local Wildlife Trusts and the Otter Survival Fund have all played major roles in the reintroduction of otters, but this success is tempered by both the admission that accurate numbers are still hard to come by and the fact that anglers are not always best pleased. As you can imagine the angling fraternity are none too keen on the competition and have accused otters of decimating fish stocks in fishing lakes. Proof, if it where needed, that you can’t please all the people.
Despite all of the positive news around the successful return of this member of the weasel family, there is a note of caution. This has nothing to do with the direct intervention of man. The increase in numbers could be put in jeopardy due to the this years drought conditions. With water levels being at an all time low, and drought conditions being acknowledged in most parts of the UK, dry rivers are not ideal habitat for otters. Reduced oxygen levels in slow running or static rivers could also have an impact on fish stocks which may have a knock on effect on otter numbers. It’s too early to know if, or to what extent, these factors will have an impact on the otter but, once again, otters could be facing challenges.
Whatever the future has holds in store for these wonderful creatures, seeing one is still a thrill for most people, be they in rivers or at the coast. I, for one, hope that they continue to thrive and provide us with an entertaining indicator that the quality of our waterways continues to improve.