Sneak peek of Springwatch Guide to Otters: Thursday 8pm BBC2

Wednesday 19 December 2012, 18:09

Paul Deane Paul Deane Web Producer

The Springwatch team are joined by fieldcraft experts Simon King and Charlie Hamilton James for an in-depth view of one of the UK's most charismatic yet enigmatic animals - the otter.

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On a calm day in the Shetlands Isles, Simon King finds an otter hunting in clear water.

Living not only along our rivers but also at the coast, otters have remarkable adaptations to a life both in and out of water. The team bring you the very latest scientific discoveries as well as a review of the turbulent history of the otter in the UK. It looks like the otter is making a steady comeback around the country but not everybody agrees this is good news.

And there's more clips from Springwatch Guide Otters.

Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    Otters are a delightful sight on when quietly fishing on R Ure, and appear to have displaced the INNS (Invasive Non-Native Species) Mink, but Chub Barbel Grayling Trout & threatened Migratory Species Salmon Sea Trout are becoming rarer. Over several seasons now this is evident.
    It may not be just otter predation as there are large numbers of Cormorant and Goosanders also present, not to mention the INNS Signal Crayfish gobbling up fish eggs.
    Similar conditions apply on R Tees.
    So good luck to the Otters, but have regard for all other native species as well.

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    Comment number 2.

    for your information county fermanagh in northern ireland has a very large population of pine martens

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    Comment number 3.

    That polecat you showed a few minutes ago was only a ferret I'm afraid. Polecats are much darker, although there are hybrid polecat X ferrets they are not as dark as real polecats.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    Loving the otter programme, I thought his comments that river otters come out at night interesting as I have seen a lot of otters at various locations in Moray and while kayaking the river Spey I have had several very close encounters where the otters have come to the boat for a 'nosey', and all these encounters have been very much during the day.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    I live in Somerset and a few miles from where Otters can be seen, we also have them on the river where i live. I think blaming them for eating fish isn't fair as there are other predators as others have mentioned but at least they eat the fish unlike most anglers who just like to catch fish for sport and not for food. We should let them get on with it as before long we will have no wild animals left due to the hunting of foxes and the culling of badgers.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 6.

    We suspect the fish farms may be shooting them up here unfort. Hopefully not, I'm encouraged by the comments that you're lucky to see one but we saw one close to our house and it wasn't very shy- we walked down the road with it as it swam down the coast. It disappeared the day after the fish farm was shooting lots - hopefully coincidence. They're allowed to shoot seals around here with a licence you see and nobody questions whether the fish farm actually have a licence, and whether it's actually seals being shot. Seal colonies have totally been wiped out in the area. Sad but I guess people have to make a living. I just hope that if seals or anything else are shot they'renot just wounded.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    Excellent programme, huge thanks to all involved.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    This programme was supposed to include 'the other side' of the otter and I believe that it warranted more than a measley 3 minute slot showing how otters 'may' have been responsible for killing fish on a Somerset lake. It is a known fact that otters are causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage killing fish stocks all over the country. Carp over 30lbs that have taken years to grow are being killed and just a few bites taken from them and the rest just left to rot. These fish are virtually irreplaceable. Not all lakes can be fenced effectively, and fences also keep out other wildlife which are welcomed by anglers. The otter hasn't made a natural comeback, they are being bred in captivity and released on or near fisheries by irresponsible do-gooders and should be stopped. They are at saturation point in some counties and are known to be killing and eating each other.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 10.

    I really enjoyed the programme as you can't get enough about Otters. Great contributions from the presenters.

    A few points.

    At one point the narration mention river Otters feeding at night on Bullheads and Eels. Whereas oddly the on screen footage showed Minnows and Lampreys.

    This leads onto another point. There was mention of rivers getting cleaner, and this playing its part in the recovery of the Otter. I am not really too sure about this. Except for some of the more heavily polluted urban rivers most areas contained more than enough clean freshwaters with a good supply of fish to support an Otter population. So this cannot be the reason they disappeared from most of England and then re-colonised it, because there has not been a big enough change in water quality during this period to account for this.

    The important factor missing from the programme, and a lot of reporting about the recovery of the Otter, is the massive decline in the population of the Common Eel, up to 99%. This really is shocking. When I was young Eels were by far the most numerous and widely distributed freshwater fish. They were present in huge numbers. Common Eels were also supposedly the main prey item of the Otter. It's easy to understand this as not only are Eels very nutritional, but they were ideally suited to the hunting strategy of Otters.

    However, the implications of this are very important and relative to some of the issues raised in the programme. The recovering Otter population is now recolonising waters which have lost a huge proportion of their Eel population. Otters are adaptable predators and can switch to other fish as prey species. Unfortunately these other fish populations involve fish which are stocked by anglers and which may have commercial value.

    This has become a particular problem because during the period where Otter population was low, Carp fishing became very popular, and commercial. Lots of waters were stocked with Carp (which are in fact a non-native species). Carp are very visible, very large fish which often cruise at the surface. It is not surprising that Otters target them in the face of the huge decline of the Common Eel.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    @Baldrig

    I understand your points. This is because some time back I was a big fish angler and carp angler. This was in the days when carp fishing was much less commercial, and I used to fish with and know many of the big name anglers of the time. So I am not lacking insight and sympathy into this aspect.

    However, there are 2 very important factors which need to be considered. Carp are a non-native species. Otters are a native species. Whilst I was a carp angler I was also very aware of the impact carp have on a lot of our freshwaters. Especially when stocked in numbers, or one of the waters where they breed regularly, carp can have a big iand adverse mpact on other native fish population. They can also alter the nature of the waters and make them far more turbid (cloudy).

    I think anglers need to appreciate that freshwaters are not just places for fishing. They are also very important natural and semi-natural habitat, which supports a wide range of biodiversity. Perhaps the majority of freshwaters containing fish generally have the fishing rights controlled by some sort of angling club, association, synidcate or its run as a commercial fishery. You cannot exclude Otters from most freshwaters used for angling, because this is probably the majority of suitable habitat.

    It is a very dangerous precendent allowing anglers the right to fence off waters to Otters. Many shooters would like to cull and kill birds of prey, or eliminate them from shoots. The reason this is not allowed is that although they may own the land, and stock gamebirds, it is also the only place our wildlife can live. This is where I think anglers are getting their wires crossed. Anglers seem to think because they own or rent the fishing rights, or stock fish, that this entitles them to do what they like with the water and wildlife. This principle does not apply elsewhere, and if it did, almost certainly some of our birds of prey would have become extinct.

    I think anglers need to learn to deal with Otters as just another natural feature like the weather, and not something they are allowed to control or interfere with.

    There is actually a very strong case to say that many of these waters stocked with carp should never have been stocked with carp. In no other habitat would it be considered accpetable to wildely stock non-native species which have an impact on our native species. Many waters now stocked with carp did not contain carp 20 years or more ago. Go back around 50 years, and you find relatively few waters stocked with carp.

    Finally you repeat the completely false myth now popular with some anglers that Otters are being introduced. This is complete rubbish. The vast majority of the Otter recovery in England is entirely natural and not done by anyone, and is from wild Otter populations. The few small scale Otter re-introduction programmes in the past were not very successful, and anyway in most parts of England no Otters were released and the Otters that have re-colonised these areas, came from natural Otter populations elsewhere. You appear to have not taken any notice of the Otter ecology explained in the programme, which explained the natural tendency of Otters to disperse and seek waters where there are no other Otter territories. The Otter recovery would have happened even if there had been no attempted re-introductions.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    I have fished and hunted over 50 yrs, spent most of my life near rivers, i have seen first hand at
    what otters can do.. im fed up with long haired college boys on these sort of programs telling us
    (me) how 'lovely' these pests are! GET REAL!! they do thousands of pounds worth of dammage!
    Also the do-gooders that play god, spredding them around the countryside.. why dont you stay
    in your offices, and leave the countryside to people that know about wildlife!!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    @riverman

    Firstly, you are obviously completely mistaken aboout what you think are facts. There are no people spreading Otters around the country, that's a complete myth. If you don't believe me please see the Environment Agency factsheet below. Most of the Otters re-colonising England are not derived from re-introduced Otters. They are Otters which have spread out from Otter populations that never died out.
    http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Business/Otters_the_facts.pdf

    When Otters were in serious decline a few Organizations like the Otter Trust had captive breeding programme. However, most of these attempted re-introductions were not successful, as often the males were killed crossing roads. When Otters started to successfully re-introduce themselves from the strongholds where they had never died out, the captive breeding programme was wound up, and the Otters they had released. However, this was a relatively small amount of Otters and they were released in the 1990s. To my knowledge there have been no re-introductions since. From what I understand the only Otters released in recent years were injured Otters or abandoned kits taken to wildlife hospitals. However, they were all born in the wild.

    You say you've spent over 50 years fishing and near rivers. I didn't start quite as far back as that, but I did start fishing in the 1960s i.e. 40 odd years ago. The thing is for most of that 50 years, Otters were at an all time low. What's more Otters on rivers, especially in the past, were maiinly nocturnal, and you rarely if ever saw them. So it's difficult to understand what you thought you were seeing. In addition American Mink were spreading around the country during this period, they are aquatic and eat similar fish to Otters. So how do you know Mink weren't responsible?

    Finally, these college boys you attempt to put down can actually indentify a wide range of species that live in the countryside, which is well in advance of your average person who lives in the countryside, who often can't identify common species.. I was brought up in a rural area and there are quite a few farmers in my family. So I know very well what level of expertise your average country person has. It is not great. It is a complete myth that the countryside is full of experts on it.

    When I went on to study ecology at university what I learnt was well in advance of what I had learned before. Yet I already knew far more than most other rural people because natural history was my interest and hobby, and the majority of rural people take little interest in natural history.

    What's more a large proportion of people that live in countryside were not born there or brought up there. They are people that made their money in work in urban areas, and then who move or retire to the countryside. Whereas at the other end of the scale a lot of the hunting, shooting and fishing country gentry have townhouses. Why do you think that famous country sports outfitters like Farlows are situated in the middle of London? Is it not that most of their regular hunting, shooting and fishing customers live in the City. I used to live on a big sporting estate. The majority of the shooting syndicate, whilst owning 4x4s and all the outfit, were actually well off people who lived in the country.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    Throughout this otherwise excellent programme, it was stated that otters in lowland British rivers are nocternal. I am surprised you did not mention the now famous exception of Blandford Forum on the River Stour in Dorset. Here in Blandford it is commonplace to watch the otters from any of the three bridges in the town, usually when returning from the shops. There are two females that have raised cubs for the past five years. The otters are most often seen in the middle of the day. They are not at all shy and usually ignore the groups of people watching them from above, in fact one man even reported that his pet dog went for a swim with the otters who swam around the dog as if curious about the visitor.

 

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