Otters go urban!

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

The return of the otter to most of England is a dramatic conservation success story and is mainly due to the banning of toxic agricultural chemicals in the 1970’s. The most recent survey of otters estimates a population increase in England of 58.8% since 19791.

Otters are often associated with rural environments, but our survey work has shown they are also found in rivers in built up areas, despite being prone to disturbance by humans. This might be due to a number of reasons but an improvement in water quality and subsequent increase in fish numbers, which make up the majority of an otters diet, must be key.

Our ecologist Craig Llewellyn has been out surveying for otter activity for a development project in the counties of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire where he identified several positive sites that had otter droppings. Otters are highly territorial and leave their droppings (spraints) in prominent places to mark their territories. Their spraints have a strangely pleasant sweet smell, a bit like jasmine, and will often contain fish bones and scales, visible here.

Some of the surprising places where otter droppings have been found include a busy A road underpass, and under a bridge at an old industrial site.

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