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An otter-ly amazing encounter

Last modified: 14 October 2011

Young otter at Leighton Moss

Image by David Hall taken at Leighton Moss

Image: Dave Hall

Wild otters are normally difficult to see, as they tend to appear very early in the morning or late at night and often it’s only their distant swimming silhouette that is glimpsed in the dark.

However, visitors to RSPB Leighton Moss nature reserve, in Lancashire, had an extremely unusual face-to-face meeting with a young wild otter when they came across it sleeping next to the path during their visit. Dave Hall, from Carlisle, was one of the visitors who was there and managed to take an incredible photo (attached).

Dave said “I’ve never seen a wild otter before and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. Amazingly, it seemed as interested in the watchers as we were in it and constantly came back for a look at us before leisurely swimming off up the channel. It’s a moment I will never forget and I’ll probably never get that close to a wild otter again. I’m so glad I had my camera with me that day.”

2011 has been the best year for otters at Leighton Moss in recent years, with at least five otters being seen regularly in the daytime during the last couple of months.

Throughout the UK otters have made a fantastic recovery, after a devastating crash in the population, which almost drove them to extinction in the 1980s. Their decline started in the 1960s and was blamed largely on pollution from pesticides and the loss of traditional habitats.

Up until 1996, otters were regularly seen at Leighton Moss, before they disappeared for about ten years. It is believed that the return of otters to this popular nature reserve has been helped by the habitat management work carried out by the RSPB, thanks to the generous funding by SITA Trust, EU Life fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The digging out of the reedbed debris from the pools, which has built up over many years, has helped improve the water quality of the reserve’s wetlands and has increased the fish population which are eaten by otters and other wildlife. To ensure improved water quality in the longer term, it is important that this sediment removal work continues and wider issues in the catchment are addressed. 

Jen Walker, Visitor Officer at Leighton Moss said “It’s really fantastic that these delightful animals are back here again. Since their return, two otter cubs were seen in 2007, another two were seen in 2009 and now there are four cubs being seen together with their mother. Otters are a great example of a wonderful conservation success story. Although there is still an element of luck to seeing wild otters, I hope that more of our visitors may be able to catch a glimpse of these fantastic animals.”

Although otters are now beginning to recover, there are lots of rare and threatened species of wildlife that also rely on wetlands and more of this valuable habitat needs to be created to help them. The RSPB is working with farmers and other land managers across the UK to restore and create areas of wildlife-rich wetlands and other habitats.

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