OTTERS are making a welcome return to Merseyside, according to new reports released by the Environment Agency.
The fifth annual Otter Report, released this month, also confirms that otters are now present in every region of England, and in almost every county.
Otters were present in fewer than 3% of surveyed sites in the North West 20 years ago. In the 2009/10 survey, they were recorded in almost six out of every 10 sites surveyed (58.1%).
It is now believed the otter could fully recover across England in just 20 years.
A number of factors are thought to have led to the successful comeback, including the move away from harmful pesticides in agriculture and an overall improvement in river quality, in turn allowing the otters’ food sources, such as fish and eels, to return.
Richard Gardner, from the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, said: “The comeback of otters in Cheshire has been phenomenal, and it tells us how important rivers are in our landscape.
“Rivers are fantastic wildlife ‘corridors’, and our Living Landscape project aims to restore, recreate and reconnect wetland habitats in areas such as the Gowy and Mersey Washlands – providing valuable habitats not just for otters, but a whole host of wildlife.”
The report suggests that otters are now widely distributed within the Weaver catchment and appear to have spread from there into adjacent catchments such as the upper Mersey and Goyt.
They are now also widely distributed south of the urban area of Liverpool and Warrington, but appear to be present only in small numbers.
The report has further confirmed work by the Cheshire region Biodiversity Partnership (CrBP) and local Cheshire wildlife filmmaker Ron Thomas, who have been working on a night-vision camera project to discover where otters may be present in rivers south of the Mersey estuary.
The footage, which can be viewed via YouTube, shows fascinating behaviour including otters “sprainting”, or leaving droppings, to mark their territories.
Many local Wildlife Trusts, including Cheshire Wildlife Trust, have also given otters a helping hand by constructing artificial otter homes, or “holts”, at riverside locations where they are known to be present.
The news has been welcomed in what is the International Year of Biodiversity, and it is also thought that the new otter population exceeds that of the 2015 target set for the species in its UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).