Aug 18

Two common otters spotted in Kent, in the South East of the UK, mark the return of this charismatic mammal to every English county, according to the UK Environment Agency.

Photo of common otter on grass

Return from near extinction

Also known as the Eurasian or European otter, the common otter had declined drastically in England due to persecution, habitat degradation, and poisoning by pesticides washed into waterways. By the 1970s, the species had almost entirely disappeared from the country.

Fortunately, legal protection and improvements in water quality have seen the common otter return from the brink of extinction. A survey of over 3,000 river sites in England between 2009 and 2010 found that the number of areas with evidence of otters had increased tenfold in the last 30 years, and otters are even starting to reappear in cities such as Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and London.

According to the Environment Agency, the return of otters indicates that English rivers are at their healthiest for over 20 years.

Photo of common otter feeding on eel in estuary

The recovery of otters from near-extinction shows how far we’ve come in controlling pollution and improving water quality,” said Alastair Driver, the Environment Agency’s national conservation manager.

Rivers in England are the healthiest for over 20 years and otters, salmon and other wildlife are returning to many rivers for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.”

Final piece in the jigsaw

Despite this nationwide recovery, otters have been slow to return to the South East, with experts predicting that the species would not be resident in Kent for another ten years. However, the two otters recently spotted in the county, on the Medway and Eden rivers, means that the common otter has now returned to every county in England.

Photo of common otter adult and cubs

The fact that otters are now returning to Kent is the final piece in the jigsaw for otter recovery in England and is a symbol of great success for everybody involved in otter conservation,” said Mr Driver.

Although the common otter still faces threats from human encroachment, road fatalities and conflict with anglers, these sightings are positive news for the comeback of this species, and for the state of English waterways.

Read more about this story at the BBC – Otters return to every county in England.

View photos and videos of otter species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author