March 2012 - Otters

Otter - taken by Lin, UEA January 2012

Have any of you been to the UEA recently and seen our local otters? Most are shy, secretive creatures, the only signs of one being present are the tell-tale footprints and spraints (droppings) left behind. They rest during daylight hours in dense cover, cavities in trees or below ground in holts, only being seen at dusk or dawn. The otters at the UEA are different. You can see these at any time of day, and one in particular seems to get great pleasure in showing off to the crowds that gather to watch it fishing in the lake. I have watched this particular otter showing off for over an hour early afternoon when I walk the dogs. You can usually tell when he is fishing as gulls will be circling overhead, waiting for him to discard a morsel of fish.  I have also followed another 2 otters, seems like a mother and cub, swimming and fishing along the river Yare until we nearly reached Cringleford, again at the same time of day.

Otters declined drastically throughout England in the late 1950s and by the 1970s Norfolk had lost most to pesticide poisoning, loss of habitat and hunting. Otters were released by the Otter Trust in Norfolk between 1984 and 1997. There have been no releases since then except that of orphaned otters by the RSPCA. In addition to the planned releases, otters from other areas of England  have spread naturally back into the East.

Otters feed mainly on fish (40 to 90% of their diet) which they catch underwater. They also take amphibians, crustaceans, small mammals and water birds given the opportunity. They catch their food as they travel through their range which in the case of an adult male may be tens of kilometres. They eat 20% of their body weight in food every day i.e. potentially around 1 kg of fish. Fisheries make wonderful foraging opportunities, the only way of keeping the animals out is by  appropriate fencing. 

Under current legislation (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and the Habitat Regulations 1994), it is an offence to deliberately kill, injure or take an otter from the wild without a licence; deliberately disturb an otter in its resting place or damage or destroy an otter's breeding or resting site. So we should be able to enjoy these wonderful creatures for some time to come.

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