Otters are back – and coming to a river near you!

Posted: Wednesday 21st September 2011

Kent sightings confirm otters recently found every county in England.

The sighting of two otters in Kent has delighted conservationists, who once feared that the iconic mammal could be lost from England’s waterways forever.

A country-wide wildlife survey published by the Environment Agency last year found that otters, which almost disappeared from England in the 1970s due to the toxic effects of pesticides, were recovering well and had been found in every English county except Kent.

Now wildlife experts at the Environment Agency have confirmed that there are at least two otters in Kent, which have built their holts on the river Medway and the river Eden. The two sightings have delighted conservationists, who previously predicted that otters may not be resident in the county for another ten years.

Improving habitats

Otters, which were nearly extinct in the 1970’s, have recovered thanks to a ban on harmful pesticides and legal protectiongiven to otters, making it an offence to intentionally kill or harm the animal. They have also been helped by a significant improvement in water quality over the past 20 years, bringing fish back to rivers that were once grossly polluted.

Otters are at the top of the food chain, and are therefore an important indicator of the health of rivers.

A symbol of great success

The Environment Agency’s National Conservation Manager, Alastair Driver said:

“The recovery of otters from near-extinction shows how far we’ve come in controlling pollution and improving water quality. Rivers in England are the healthiest for over 20 years, and otters, salmon and other wildlife are returning to many rivers for the first time since the industrial revolution.

“The fact that otters are now returning to Kent is the final piece in the jigsaw for otter recovery in England and is a symbol of great success for everybody involved in otter conservation. It is also a fantastic reward for all of the Environment Agency’s efforts in improving the water quality and ecology of England’s rivers.

“However, we cannot afford to be complacent. The Environment Agency is committed improving waterways further and will be working with community groups, River Trusts and wildlife and angling organisations who all have important roles to play in achieving this.”

Recovery across the UK

Otters continue to recover in other parts of the UK too, with a recent survey on the river Ribble in Lancashire showing a 44 per cent increase in the numbers of otters since 2008. The River Ribble is one of 10 rivers taking part in a pilot project which aims to get wildlife organisations, farmers, businesses and the local community to take co-ordinated action to further improve the health of UK rivers.

All member states must meet stringent new EU targets for rivers and lakes. These include targets for water quality and ecological health. Failure to do so by 2015 can result in EU action against member countries.

The Environment Agency, working with partners such as Natural England, has this year been granted an additional £18m of Defra funding to help more English rivers meet the new EU targets on the overall health of rivers.

River habitats have also benefited from reductions in the volume of water taken by water companies, farmers and industry. The Environment Agency is reviewing abstraction licences and amending those that are causing environmental damage. For example, around 35 million fewer litres a day are now being taken from the River Darent in Kent than 20 years ago, increasing river flows and helping to support larger populations of wildlife including brown trout and pike.

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