Posted 16th Nov 2017
Image courtesy of Amy Lewis
The 20th century proved to be a tough time for the otter
Hunted by hounds and made homeless following the destruction of wetlands, the secretive mammal was then poisoned by pesticides, pushing what was once a widespread creature to the very edge of extinction.
By the 1970s and 1980s, the otter had nearly disappeared from England's rivers and waterways, with the exception of a few areas in the south-west and the borders.
While they managed to survive in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, they were in much smaller numbers.
Luckily, things started to change before it was too late. Otter hunting and a range of pesticides - notably DDT - were both banned during the 1970s, and throughout the UK, huge efforts were made to improve water quality and bring our rivers back to life.
Now, the otter is back on our rivers, hopefully for good.
Although it's far from common and is normally quite shy of people, there's an increasingly likely chance of spotting the predator.
How to do it
Some reserves will be regularly visited by otters. The key is to be patient - simply find a comfortable hide which overlooks a pool or river where otters will regularly visit, and then wait. Pay attention to what the birds are doing too - if there's a flock of coot or ducks which suddenly look alarmed and swim rapidly in one direction whilst looking over their shoulders, this could be the first sign that there is an otter about.
Watch along the edge of reedbeds where otters will hunt. And be sure to remember they will spend a lot of time under water, so keep an eye out for bubbles. If everything else fails, their tracks and signs are a lot easier to find than the beast himself. Look on wet mud for footprints, which are recognisable by their five webbed toes, and keep an eye out on tree roots, riverside rocks and under bridges for 'spraints', other droppings used to mark their territory.
If you can't get to the special place listed below... Otters have been found on every river catchment in the country - they can even be seen in some of our biggest cities. However, you'll have to be incredibly lucky to spot one.
Cricklepit Mill in Devon must be one of England’s best and most reliable otter spotting venues. Otters regularly visit the 18th century watermill at Devon Wildlife Trust’s headquarters. And if you fail to see one you can always view recorded footage on interactive screens at the mill’s visitor centre.
Derbyshire, Willington Gravel Pits
Durham, Low Barns
Durham, Shibdon Pond
Gwent, Magor Marsh
Hampshire, Lower Test
Hampshire, Winnall Moors
Lanarkshire, Falls of Clyde
Lincolnshire, Deeping Lakes
Montgomeryshire, Llyn Coed y Dinas
Moray, Spey Bay
Norfolk, Barton Broad,
Norfolk, Ranworth Broad
Northamptonshire, Ditchford Lakes and Meadows
Northumberland, Cresswell Pool
Pembrokeshire, Teifi Marshes
Perthshire, Loch of the Lowes
Radnorshire, Gilfach Farm
Somerset, Westhay Moor
Suffolk, Lackford Lakes
Staffordshire, Doxey Marshes
Staffordshire, The Wolseley Centre
Tees Valley, Bowesfield and Preston Farm
Tees Valley, Portrack Marsh
Warwickshire, Brandon Marsh
Wiltshire, Langford Lakes
Wiltshire, Lower Moor Farm
Yorkshire, Wheldrake Ings
Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts