THE first confirmed evidence for 14 years of an otter living in a Hampshire river has been captured on film.
A camera was set up on the River Rother, near Petersfield, to monitor the invasive species, the American mink.
But scientists were astounded when it instead captured a young otter. Chris Gurney, a ranger for the South Downs National Park, said: ‘It’s been 14 years since the last confirmed sighting of an otter here.’
Chris Gurney, Apprentice Ranger for the South Downs National Park, said:
“It’s been fourteen years since the last confirmed sighting of an otter here – probably because the river hasn’t been healthy enough to support the fish they eat.
“There’s been a real community effort to improve the habitat with local fishing groups, landowners and volunteers all working together to restore the river and encourage more sympathetic land management, this hard work is starting to pay off. However the Rother is still failing water quality standards and there’s a long way to go. We need to work together to reduce the pollution running off surrounding land.
“Everyone would love to see this otter find a mate and settle down,” continued Chris. “We can’t rest on our laurels - there’s a lot more to be done to improve the river’s health so we can make it a great spot to raise an otter family.”
The European otter (Lutra lutra), was common in UK until the 1950s, but had become rare in many parts of England by the 1980s due to pollution and habitat loss. It is now making a strong recovery.
Although there have been some anecdotal reports of otters in recent years, this is the first animal caught on camera. So far footage shows one otter, believed to be a young male, which may have travelled from the River Meon, where work to control mink and reintroduce water voles has already seen otter numbers grow. Water voles have been proven to be a keystone species and are a crucial prey species for larger predators. Otters are apex predators which need a carefully balanced ecosystem in order to thrive.