Away from all the rioting, looting and general mayhem in our cities, a quiet revolution is happening in the English countryside.
The BBC Breakfast news programme this morning reported that otters had been seen in Kent. Anyone inclined to respond so what? should think twice. There are only thirteen species of otter worldwide, and unless we are careful, they could go the same way as the dodo.
There is only one species of otter native to the UK, the Eurasian otter – Latin name Lutra lutra. They have been here as long as we have, and until the 1950s they were doing reasonably well in spite of Britain’s rapidly increasing population and disappearing natural habitat. Then there was a sudden and unexplained decline so that apart from Scotland and small populations in Wales and both southwest and north England, the otter was all but gone. Their rapidly dwindling numbers were most likely due to certain pesticides which can have dramatic effects on animals higher up the food chain; the withdrawal of dieldrin and similar chemicals appears to have been followed by significant recoveries of both bird populations and otters.
In addition to the withdrawal of potentially lethal pesticides, a dedicated “otter lobby” played its part, none more so than the Otter Trust, which released captive bred animals into the wild. In Britain, otters are a protected species; it remains to be seen why anyone would want to kill them, but there can be a conflict with anglers; elsewhere they have been hunted for their fur, and in 1970 there were conflicts with the fishing industry in California.
The confirmed sighting of otters to Kent means they can now be found in every single English county; their progress is being monitored by the Environment Agency among others, and their return to the Garden of England is an achievement that has been called “the final piece in the jigsaw for otter recovery in England and...a symbol of great success for everybody involved in otter conservation.”