Surrey is “on the brink of a recolonisation wave” as Otters move into neighbouring counties, rivers become cleaner, and habitats improve, a wildlife charity believes.
Surrey Wildlife Trust is now looking for wildlife enthusiasts to help the charity spot the lovable mammals so it can record them and help them.
Otters used to be widespread across the UK but numbers dropped drastically between the 1950’s and 1970’s due to pesticide poisoning, habitat destruction and hunting.
They disappeared from large parts of the country - including Surrey. But they are now believed to be in every river in the UK, but they are often hard to spot, a spokesperson for the charity stated.
“The species is expanding from strong-holds in the west and repopulating many parts of the UK,” said Alex Learmont, Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscapes and Ecology Services Assistant.
“Surrey is on the brink of this ‘recolonisation wave’ as otters have now moved into the neighbouring counties of Hampshire and Sussex, so we expect them to become residents in our county soon – it’s very exciting!”
The re-emergence of the otter was featured on BBC One’s Countryfile programme this week.
Otters have been recorded within the last five years on the River Wey, the Tillingbourne and River Mole – but it’s thought these animals may have just been passing through.
An ‘Otter Blitz’ carried out by Trust volunteers at the end of 2016 surveyed for otters in the county, but none were found.
“Sadly we did not find any evidence of otters but that’s not to say they aren’t living in Surrey,” Ms Learmont added.
“They are extremely shy animals with very large territories of up to 20km, so pinpointing exactly where they are can be difficult. But they could be on any of Surrey’s waterways, so please keep your eyes peeled – we’d love to hear about your sightings!”
If you want to be an Otter Spotter, here’s the Surrey Wildlife Trust’s checklist of what to look out for:
- Holts: underground dens can be found alongside waterways, usually under waterside trees or cavities in the bankside.
- Spraint: Otter poo! Used to mark territory, it’s black and tar-like when wet, but turns white and crumbly when older. Full of fish bones and has a distinctive smell.
- Paths and slides: Look out for muddy slides on river banks where the otter has slipped on its belly into the water.
- Footprints: Otter footprints are large and distinctive with five toes. You can sometimes see the webbing between toes in very soft mud or sand.
- Sighting: Otters are big animals, up to a metre long, with broad, dog-like heads and chunky tails. They swim low in the water, with just the top of their head and rump showing. When they dive, their long tail flips over and can be seen clearly out of the water.
For more information, and to find out how to train as a River Search volunteer to help improve our waterways and carry out species surveys, please visit www.surreywildlifetrust.org/riversearch
Any otter sightings or signs should be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org