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Wildlife to look out for in January - Otters

Updated: Jan 6

“Where’s the best place to see an Otter?” If you had asked that question 40 years ago, the answer would have been at specialist conservation reserves like the Otter Trust at Earsham in East Suffolk. This is because their population had sadly crashed in the mid 20th century. However, today you can see signs of Otters on almost any river or waterway in Suffolk. This recovery has been due to several factors including protection under The Wildlife Countryside Act in 1981; bans on certain chemicals and improvements in river habitats. This recovery is important for restoring balance to our natural ecosystems. Otters are believed to have a current population of over 10,000 and near Risby, signs of Otters can be found in the more watery parishes of Culford and Lackford.


Otters are great swimmers, hunting and travelling in both salt and fresh water habitats. Not only do they eat fish, but they also eat crustaceans, frogs, small mammals and birds. Otters are designed to move swiftly though water to catch their prey, with their clawed, webbed feet, slimline bodies, rudder shaped tail, thick waterproof fur, acute eyesight and sharp teeth. They can swim up to 7.5 miles per hour and they can hold their breath up to 4 minutes underwater. Once they have caught their prey they will eat it on land leaving several scraps behind such as tough crustacean claws. Looking for these signs as well as footprints in soft ground; black tarry deposits on rocks; or even otter poos, known as ‘spraints’ are a great way to detect the presence of Otters. Fishing Lakes can have issues with Otters, as they just love those fish! But there is practical advice out there to help with such conflicts from organisations like the UK Otter Trust.


Otters need to move overland between watery habitats to find new territory or to find a mate, but unfortunately this means they have to cross our busy roads. So, as we build more roads, without safe places for animals to cross, more animals are being found as roadkill. However, from these sad accidents, positive actions are being taken by the Cardiff University Otter Project. This project gathers information about the dead animal’s genetics, their exposure to pollutants (plastic or chemical) and their former general state of health. If you see a dead otter, it is really helpful if you report it, as it helps to continue research on these amazing and endearing animals.


Things you can practically do to help Otters:

1. Report any dead Otter sightings

2. Minimise plastic use and pick up litter, as so much of it ends up polluting our rivers

3. Support the use of wildlife tunnels and wildlife reflectors on our roads

4. Donate to Otter based charities


References:

https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/otter-project

https://ukwildottertrust.org/useful-information/

https://www.otter.org



European Otter, photo taken by Bernard Landgraf

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