Otter Conservation: meddling, monitoring and muddling through

27th October 2007

Dr Paul Chanin, international otter expert, talked about the milestones of the last 30 years of otter studies. Much of the early recording of British otters was found in reports kept by the otter hunting fraternity noting their successes which were fairly constant until they lapsed during the Second World War. Hunting was resumed in the late 1940s but the success rate dropped dramatically from about 1960 onwards and the otter hounds became largely redundant as the numbers of otters dropped. Reasons for the sudden decline have been attributed to pesticide contamination of prey, insensitive maintenance of waterways, human disturbance, etc. From the 1970s, observations revealed a sparse population mainly identified by the presence of droppings or spraint within otter territories. Gradually the use of many harmful pesticides was identified and curtailed, waterways and their banks were managed to accommodate otters and other wildlife with the result that the residual otter populations in the South West, Wales and East Anglia recovered. Now these animals were spreading much further afield wherever habitats were suitable and inevitably the larger numbers were reflected as an increase in road casualties which was unfortunately when the general public were most likely to see these beautiful creatures. All over the country volunteers were observing and recording the otter populations adding significantly to our understanding of this most elusive but attractive animal.

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