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Do you want to see otters? If you do, then you are lucky because the odds of seeing otters in the UK nowadays are high. Otter sightings have been reported in various parts of the country.
Otters are semi-aquatic mammals that belong to the family called Mustelid. Other members of this family are weasels, polecats and badgers. The sea otter, one of the 13 otter species, is considered the smallest marine mammal in the world. Otters are carnivorous animals and fish make up 80% of their diet. However, when fish is scarce, they eat insects, frogs, birds and other mammals like rodents. Despite their sleek bodies, these mammals can eat food amounting to as much as 25% of their body weight.
Why Otter Population in the UK Dropped
Known for their playfulness, otters are found all over the world including the UK. Prior to the 1950s, these fish-devouring mammals were abundant in England. However, between the 1950s and 1970s, their numbers significantly dropped, prompting conservationists to sound the alarm bells for one of UK’s beloved animals.
One of the major culprits behind the disappearance of otters in the UK is habitat pollution. Organochlorine chemicals which are found in pesticides contaminated rivers in England rendering them uninhabitable for fish and otters. Aside from polluted habitats, hunting also contributed to the decline in their population. Fishery owners hunted them because they were viewed as threats to the fish.
Due to the drastic drop in otter population in the country, measures were implemented to prevent them from becoming extinct. In 1978, hunting of otters in the UK was banned. The use of pesticides containing organochlorine chemicals was also stopped. This eventually led to improved water quality and fish population. Yet, it still took three decades for otter population in the UK to fully recover.
In 2011, the Environment Agency announced that otters are officially back in the country. Their numbers are no longer near extinction levels. Nowadays, they can be seen in ancestral river territories and other parts of the country.
Where Can You Find Otters in the UK?
There are several places in the UK where you might be able to spot otters. Some of them are listed below:
This ancient woodland on the River Lune is consider an otter hotspot. You need to hike if you wish to get a glimpse of these shy creatures. Oftentimes, they are found by the River Lune. Stay alert and observant when you go otter spotting in Aughton Woods. Be on the lookout for footprints displaying four toes as these may point you to where the otters are. Other animals you may find here are oystercatchers, pied flycatchers and common sandpipers.
Located at the heart of Exeter city centre, Cricklepit Mill is one of the best places to spot otters. Apart from being easily accessible, this urban site, which also happens to be Devon Wildlife Trust’s headquarters, receives regular visits from otters. Sometimes, talks about otters are conducted here. At the visitor centre, there is an interactive screen where you can watch footage of otters during their visits to the Mill. The place is open Monday to Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM.
Otters are also regularly seen at Portrack Marsh. They are usually found on the river and riverbank. So, to increase your chance of seeing them, take a walk along the River Tees. The best time to look for otters in this area is early in the morning. During your walk, you may spot other animals such as seals, herons, swans and tufted duck.
There are reports of otter sightings at this traditional hill farm. Some claim seeing these marine mammals along the farm’s natural trail. Others report spotting them by the waterfalls. Sightings often happen during mid-afternoon. There’s a hide where you can wait for them without being seen. If you really want to see otters at Gilfach farm, schedule your visit between October to December. During these months, otters come out and try catching the salmons in the waterfalls.
Winnall Moors is a wildlife oasis located north of Winchester city centre. This vast wetland serves as a home for a number of otters. You may find them resting on ditches, tree roots and boardwalks, among others. Sometimes, otters are spotted at the city centre. This isn’t surprising at all given the city centre’s proximity to Winnall Moors, estimated to be a 10-minute walk.
It is important to note that spotting otters is not easy. You need to be extremely patient. These elusive animals are also highly sensitive. Stay quiet when observing them and never disturb them and their habitat.
While authorities say that numbers are looking good for otters, you must still take part in efforts to safeguard these adorable mammals, especially since threats to their existence remain. In fact, following the announcement of their comeback, fishing groups called for a cull because they say that otters are threats to their fish.
Road and building constructions as well as other infrastructure developments are displacing otters, too. Others are getting caught in fishing nets and crayfish traps, while some are dying in road accidents. Meanwhile, studies are showing that pollutants like pesticides are harming the reproductive system of otters.
Otters do not reproduce quickly. In fact, in their lifetime, most females only give birth to two sets of pups. Given these facts and the existing threats, it is not impossible for their number to drop again. Hence, protecting them is essential to ensure that they continue to thrive in the UK.
Eurasian otter photo by Doolallyally
Eurasian otter eating fish photo by Smudge 9000
Winnall Moors photo by David Spender