It has been a long and perilous journey, but otters have finally managed to swim back from the brink of extinction and into every county in England. The cute animals almost disappeared from England between the 1950s and 1970s because of persecution and pesticides washing into waterways.
Otters Spotted In Every English County
Two otters have been spotted building their holts on the banks of the rivers Medway and Eden in Kent, delighting conservationists who had previously predicted they would not return to the county for another 10 years. This is significant, because a report issued last year cited reports of otters being spotted in every English county except Kent.
From The Guardian:
“The fact that otters are now returning to Kent is the final piece in the jigsaw for otter recovery in England and is a symbol of great success for everybody involved in otter conservation,” said Alastair Driver, the national conservation manager for the Environment Agency.
Otters have reappeared in places where they have not been seen since the industrial revolution, including Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester, and even on the Thames and the Lea in north London. A recent survey on the river Ribble, in Lancashire, showed a 44% increase in otter numbers since 2008.
The Kentish otters herald a remarkable – if slow – renaissance for the sleek, fish-devouring member of the mustelid family, which declined by 95% of its range in western Europe during the 20th century.
Otter Hunting Banned In 1978
After otter hunting was belatedly banned in Britain in 1978, numbers began to increase – particularly following the withdrawal of organochlorine chemicals and a more general improvement in water quality, leading to more fish in rivers and lakes.
The resurgence of the otter, which is top of the food chain in river environments, is an indicator that English rivers are at their healthiest in more than 20 years, according to the Environment Agency.
As reported in The Guardian, a spokesperson for The Wildlife Trusts said: “This is fantastic news. We will continue our work to improve habitats for these magnificent animals and to promote the otter as a flagship species of healthy wetland ecosystems. However, we must not be complacent. There is still a great deal of work to do before otters are widespread once more.”
Angling Clubs Unhappy About The Return Of Otters
The resurgence of the otter has not delighted everyone, however, and anglers have reported otters decimating stocks in fishing lakes. Many angling clubs have been forced to erect expensive fences around lakes to keep otters out.
The Environment Agency, working with partners including wildlife and angling organizations, has this year been granted an additional £18m of funding by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help more English rivers meet new EU targets on the health of rivers.
I am especially happy about this news, since I have fond memories of taking my young son, along with his English cousins, to visit the Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies, while visiting the southwest of England, where I grew up.
The Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary was set up to protect these otters and make visitors aware of their plight as they faced world-wide extinction. How exciting that their fate has turned around so dramatically.
Great to report a story with a happy ending!
If you want to understand more about this story, and see some otters in action, watch this video.
Photo Credit: monkeywing via Creative Commons