The Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust delivered its first Canal Safari and Expert Otter Talk aboard its 99% recycled plastic punt, the Poly Roger, and got more than they bargained for!
Captain Jacob Williams and Bosun Tarun Ingvorsen, both Officers with the Trust, set motion sensor wildlife cameras along the canal where they had previously noticed signs of the elusive creatures – and were amazed when the footage from a camera near the Mailbox, collected and analysed by customers along for the ride, showed an otter!
Unfortunately, spraint (otter poo!) collected at the same time contained beads of plastic, showing that the impact of plastic on our wildlife is as big a concern in our local towns and cities as our oceans.
For nearly two years staff at the Trust have collected signs of otters in the local area. Otters are very territorial and avoid confrontation by marking the boundaries of their territories with strong smelling droppings mixed with scent called ‘spraints’. They smell distinctively sweet, almost like jasmine tea, and have a black tarry appearance, often with the bones of fish and other prey in them, which have been recorded at several locations. Otters also have five, wide spread and slightly webbed toes which help them to swim, and a large, oval shaped palm pad with a distinct heel which leaves a distinctive footprint.
Jacob Williams, Poly Roger Captain and Engagement Officer, Birmingham and the Black Country Wildlife Trust said: ‘It’s hard to overstate how important this is. We’ve been setting cameras out for months, trying to catch a glimpse of the otters we know are here, we couldn’t believe it when one finally appeared on camera while we were doing an otter talk!’
Otters underwent a massive population decline between the 1950’s and 70’s, due to the introduction of pesticides such as diedrin in farming. Once these were banned, they naturally began to re-establish, with the help of human efforts to improve habitat quality and reintroduction projects in the 1980’s.
Signs of otters in Birmingham and Black Country were first spotted on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal in 2000. But according to EcoRecord who hold the official ecological database for the area, this is the first time otters have been actually seen in the city centre, much less caught on camera!
Tarun Ingvorsen, Poly Roger Bosun and Salmon in the Stour Officer, Birmingham and the Black Country Wildlife Trust said ‘The return of otters to the city centre shows that they have adapted well to the urban environment and living unnoticed amongst humans. We have to make sure the waterways are kept clean and healthy – not only free from rubbish but free from the pesticides and chemicals that poison water, the environment and destroy their food supply.’
The only otter species found in the UK, The Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) is 1 - 1.3 metres long including the tail.
The elusive otter is one of our top predators, feeding mainly on fish (particularly eels and salmonids), waterbirds, amphibians and crustaceans. Otters have their cubs in underground burrows, known as 'holts'. Excellent and lithe swimmers, the young are in the water by 10 weeks of age. Otters are well suited to a life on the water as they have webbed feet, dense fur to keep them warm, and can close their ears and nose when underwater. They require clean rivers, with an abundant source of food and plenty of vegetation to hide their secluded holts. They are usually most active during dawn and dusk. Seeing an otter is uncommon so they are often surveyed using their tracks and signs.