The Otter is one of Britain’s most loved animals. These charming, playful yet elusive mammals are a real treat to see if you are near a river at dawn or dusk. However, there was a time when it was dangerously close to the waterways and riverbanks of Britain being sadly bare of Otters. The news that it is now thought that Otters have returned to every County in England is thanks to the hard work of Conservationists throughout the years, bringing the Otters plight to the publics attention.
Up until the 1960s, Otters were regarded by many as vermin. They were shot, trapped in nets and hunted by specially bred dogs call Otterhounds. All of this, along with the destruction of their habitats (Otters are solitary creatures, and they require large areas as their own territory) added to their demise. But in the 1960s, a new threat to their existence started to decrease the numbers of Otters even more dramatically.
Newer and stronger pesticides than ever before were being spread across the country, in an attempt to help farmers to have healthier crop harvests. These pesticides entered the food chain and the top-level predators – such as Otters and birds of prey, particularly the Peregrine Falcon, suffered a huge decline in numbers. By the time the prey reached them, the build up of chemicals were so potent they were being poisoned and killed. It was also during the 1960s, that Gavin Maxwell’s popular book ‘Ring of Bright Water’ became a film – endearing people to these secretive and beautiful creatures and to their plight. People have become more aware of otters, and if like most people you can’t have your own Mij, you could have your own bronze animal sculpture.
Since the 1960s, there has been a great effort to make the waterways and habitats safer for otters to return to them – indeed in many parts of the country it was thought that the sight of otters playing on the riverbank were never to be seen again. Chemicals that were harming them were banned, but because of the lower breeding rate of Otters than many other mammals (Otter cubs stay with their mother more than a year, and they don’t tend to have large litters), it was a slow process getting them back to where they belonged. Other steps were put in place too, such as tunnels under roads, particularly near rivers, so that the number killed in road traffic accidents would be much less, As Otters wander at night as their territory is so large.
All of the effort has paid off – Otters numbers have risen gradually but steadily and are now at higher levels than we could have imagined, considering the dire situation they were in during the 1960s. So, remember when you are next walking along a riverbank, be quiet and still and you may just catch a glimpse…