The return of the otter to waterways across the country is one of the UK’s modern conservation success stories. They were driven to near extinction in some areas between the 1950s and 1970s, but thanks to improvements in water quality and greater protection otters can once again be found across Scotland and the rest of the UK. Once thought of as shy, secretive and difficult to spot, the otter’s return to ancestral river territories and its recent population expansion has brought it closer to people.
The odds of spotting one have never been better, with many otters taking up residence in urban centres and growing accustomed to the presence of people. As with all mammals – a notoriously skittish bunch – the trick to otter spotting is patience, with a healthy dose of luck thrown in. Increase your chances by researching ideal otter habitat. Clean waterways, abundant prey stocks and vegetated banks are otter musts.
Look for tell-tale tracks and signs, such as distinctive webbed toe prints in soft riverbank mud, or spraint (droppings, often containing fish bones and scales) left at strategic points along an otter’s territory, such as beneath bridges. Its aroma has been likened to that of jasmine tea, but you may want to take my word for it!
In the past couple of weeks we have been hearing the distinctive ‘squeaky bike wheel’ noise of the cubs on the river outside our offices in New Lanark, in fact I can hear one outside the office right now! Annoyingly they keep appearing after dark, but yesterday I managed to see a cub and adult female out on the islands. You might also see mink on the river, however they tend to swim higher out of the water. When watching an otter, you will generally only see their head as they swim along.
Laura Preston, Falls of Clyde Ranger
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