Otters are one of England’s best-loved river mammals, and sometimes also live by the sea. These fun ‘sea dogs’ are very playful and live to have fun. They eat food off their tummies, and even hold hands while sleeping, to avoid drifting away!
Did you know that otters have the thickest fur of any animal on earth? That’s so that they don’t get hypothermia, spending all that time in water. In fact, the babies don’t like to swim at birth, they are scared of water. So their mums have to coax them in the water! They only dive for 30 seconds or so, as they can’t hold their breath for that long. They live in holts (holes in river banks) with different entrances to prevent getting stuck when flooded. Otter droppings contain fish bones, and stink!
Otters alas rarely live a long time, and a lot of this has to do with modern life. Over-fishing has reduced their food and building roads has not helped (some near the sea have been caught in fishing nets). Charities want under-road tunnels and otter ledges to stop them being run over, and pesticides baned.
If you find an otter cub that needs help (talk to the experts below if insure, a lot of wildlife is ‘rescued’ when the parents are nearby), place in a box with a blanket or towel (no fringes to stop entanglement) and don’t place near a radiator, or the cub will over-heat. Wear thick gloves as otters have sharp teeth, and likely try to nip you! Then call Wild Otter Trust for help (you can also report dead otters to them). If you can’t get through, call your wildlife shelter. Find lots of info at International Otter Survival Fund (includes educational packs).
Like all river creatures, otters are most at risk from pollution and fishing waste. So if you are near a river, always take your rubbish with you. There are conservationists who are building bridges for otters to safely cross, so they don’t have to cross roads. And try to avoid noise pollution too, if you are nearby. And don’t over-fish as they were there first, and fish is their natural diet.
How to Help Otters
- Never leave rubbish, plastic or fishing waste near the river. Take everything home with you, to dispose of safely. If you’re an angler, don’t take more fish than you need, and use a fishing line recycling program. Otter Trust has free information and materials to help fisheries.
- Use a car wash that recycles the water or use a waterless car wash. This avoids oily water going down storm drains, from home driveway car washes. Many river otters are also hit by cars, so see tips to be a wildlife-friendly driver.
- Choose biodegradable beauty and cleaning products. These avoid chemicals and fragrance oils that cause algae bloom when washed down the sink, which in turn chokes oxygen out of the water and cause algae bloom, which harms all water wildlife.
- Never flush anything down the loo other than toilet paper. Baby wipes, tampons, cotton buds, condoms and the like all get washed into our rivers and seas, where they can harm native wildlife, if accidentally ingested. Recycle unused medication and contraception pills at the local pharmacy, never flush it down the loo.
- Volunteer with Inland Waterways to clean up your local rivers and canals. You can even take a cheap Canal Camp weekend, which includes accommodation and unlimited cups of tea!
- If you’ve found an injured or orphaned otter, contact UK Wild Otter Trust, who have experts to advice and help.
Otterly Wonderful Books!
Encounters in the Wild: Otter is a beautiful book by a renowned nature writer who gets up close and personal with this lovely creature, offering intimate insights into the extraordinary lives of otters. ‘A big dog otter frequents this shore. I have seen him before. A ginger muffler about his neck and jowls tempers his sleek and powerful profile. He is fishing, and he may be coming my way. Then he vanishes’.
Not just an astonishingly good nature writer, but an outstanding artist with prose. West Highland Free Press
Otters: RSPB Spotlight is one of a series of books with educational information on this wonderful species. This is a lively account of an endangered species with charming and informed text to bring into sharper focus what an otter is, and how they live, feed, play and breed. She also examines the challenges that otters have faced that brought them to the brink of extinction and also explores how to safely watch otters in the wild.
The Secret Life of the Otter is a beautiful account by wildlife writer Andy Howard, on otters that live the full length of teh British and Irish coasts, and on many rivers and lochs. Formerly hunted almost to extinction, these are one of conservation’s great success stories. Learn how otters hunt, move and battle, along with how they raise their young. From the Scottish Highlands to Vancouver Island, Andy’s stunning photos will amaze and enlighten. BBC Winterwatch presenter Iolo Williams calls this ‘a cracker of a book – really the next best thing to seeing these wonderful animals in the wild’.
Ripples on the River is a book to celebrate the return of the otter. A generation ago, otters were almost extinct due to hunting, habitat disturbance and pesticide poisoning. But today conservation work as seen our waterways improve and otters are returning to their former habitats. Natural history photographer Laurie Campbell got to know otters while working in the Scottish Highlands and was delighted to find otters back on the Tweed and its tribuatires, launching him on a photographic account of their lives on his home river. Accompanied by wildlife writer Anna Levin, this weaves information into the stories and photos, with extracts offering a vivid glimpse of otters to enchant.
The Little Book of Otter Philosophy
The Little Book of Otter Philosophy is a delightful little gift book by American writer Jennifer McCartney. These long and lean furry creatures embody joy in so many ways – they live for napping, palying, making friends and eating. They communicate in a flurry of whistles, chirps, chuckles, clicks and coos – and befriend other species, just because. What other animal builds a waterslide on a daily basis, and floats peacefully with their pals. These intelligent, adorable mammals have a lot to teach us on the way we live. So kick back, grab a pal, dive in and reconnect with your playful side.
‘Otter’ Organic Cotton Tote Bag
Lyndsey Green’s Organic Cotton Tote Bags are printed with eco inks, and make a lovely alternative to ugly plastic bags. Use them for years to carry your groceries back from the farm shop or indie health shop, and help to keep river habitats free from polluting plastic, something the otters will thank you for.