Otters are some of the cutest creatures on earth. They are scared of water at birth, and are taught to swim by their parents, and now are thriving, after almost becoming extinct in the 1970s due to the use of pesticides. They live by our rivers, eat food from their tummies and hold hands when sleeping, to avoid floating away! Perhaps England’s biggest otter fan is wildlife cameraman Charlie Hamilton-Jones, who says that he could just watch otters all day.
Today otters are highly protected, and the future looks bright. You won’t see them often, as they are more nocturnal and often found in water (they have the thickest fur of any mammals, so never get wet). They can live on land, but their webbed feet are ideal for the water, and they can also close their noses and eyes when under the water. They mostly eat fish, but will also eat some meat. If you see one, stay quiet so as not to alarm it. Look for semi-circular mud slides, with 5-claw footprints. Their scent has been described as jasmine tea, freshly-mown hay or rotten fish! If awake and not eating, they are mostly grooming or just playing.
How We Can Help Otters
Otters are protected, so report any abuse to National Wildlife Crime Unit or Crimestoppers (anonymous). The main way to help (like all wildlife) is to leave them alone. Choose biodegradable and zero waste foods, beauty and cleaning products, to keep their rivers clean. Wash synthetic clothing with a GuppyFriend (a washbag that collects plastic fibres to bin, so they don’t end up in our waterways).
The only people who don’t appear to adore otters are commercial fisheries, but then we could argue that if England ate more plants and less fish, there would be enough for everyone. Otters never did any harm, they are just following their natural diet. Nature can look after itself, if nobody takes too much. Natural England has recently allowed trapping and removal of otters in fish farms and the otters are released without harm, but whether they have babies left behind, is not said.
- If you have a garden pond with fish in it, nearby otters may try to visit to eat fish and frogs. If you use it, see safer alternatives to netting for wildlife (to deter herons, but has tips for humane deterrence for all creatures).
- UK Wild Otter Trust is a charity to help injured or abandoned otters (also report dead otters). They say if you find an otter that needs help, keep it warm in a blanket, in a large dark box. Wear thick gloves as otters have sharp teeth, and likely try to nip you! If you can’t get through, call your wildlife shelter.
- International Otter Survival Fund helps otters worldwide, including in the UK. Find lots of info here, including educational packs for children, to download.
Outstanding Books on Otters
- The Little Book of Otter Philosophy is a lovely book on how we can learn from creatures that live for napping, playing, making friends and eating. What other animal holds hands with their friends whilst napping, communicates in a flurry of whistles, chirps, chuckles & coos, builds a waterslide, on a daily basis and eats food off their tummy, while floating with their pals?
- RSPB Spotlight: Otters is a lively account of this intriguing animal. Nicola Chester’s charming and informed text tells us how otters live, feed, pay and breed. She also examines the challenges that otters have faced from hunting to pesticides, and explores how to help otters in the wild.
- An Otter Called Pebble is a nice little story for children. It tells the story of Jasmine and Tom, who spot a baby otter alone on the riverbank. When the cub is swept downstream, they try to rescue her, but where is her family? Can they find Pebble’s home, before it’s too late?
- If You Take Away The Otter is a nice children’s book about sea otters, over the water in the USA. The authors teach children of the importance of both sea otters and their underwater kelp forests, along with the effects of the international fur trade on indigenous peoples.