Otters were once comon throughout the UK, but disappeared from many areas in the 1960s as a result of poisoning by organochlorine pesticides and loss of habitat. Otters are making a welcome return to many river systems, most recently in the Midlands and Southern England.
A thriving otter population is an excellent indicator of the environmental health of a river, and their presence reflects good water quality, suitable habitat conditions and a plentiful food supply.
Conservation work for otters, which started in the 1970s, concentrates mainly on protecting and improving river and wetland environments. Thanks to conservation and research activities, much is now known about these secretive mammals.
The expansion of populations that we see today is partly due to natural colonisation. The recovery of otters in eastern England has been aided by re-introductions carried out by the otter trust, although this programme has now come to an end.
The fifth otter survey of England 2009-10
The return of the otter to most of England is one of the major conservation success stories of the last 30 years. The main reason for this increase has been the reduction in levels of toxic pesticides, but the improvements in water quality and consequent increase in fish stocks have probably played a significant part.
During 2009-10 more than 3,300 sites were surveyed. Positive site records (those showing evidence of otters) have increased from 5.8 per cent in the first survey of 1977-79 to an outstanding 58.8 per cent in this survey: