Otters now responsible for deaths of rare birds

The UK’s growing otter population is not only working its way through our freshwater fish stocks, but is now affecting the breeding habits of our birds, too.

Angling Times can reveal that the RSPB’s own ‘poster boy’, the avocet, is having its breeding disrupted by the ever increasing numbers of otters in and around Norfolk’s Wensum river system, leading experts to fear for other wildlife as the predatory mammal’s numbers grow.

Having been an acute problem for the river’s fish population for many years, the mass and subsequently unchecked reintroduction of otters across the UK is devastating fish stocks around the country. This latest revelation, combined with the statement by Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon reported in last week’s AT that ‘otter numbers need to be regulated’, adds further weight to calls for this apex predator’s numbers to be checked.

Founder of Norfolk’s Pensthorpe nature reserve, the home of BBC’s Springwatch, Bill Makins spoke to AT about the issue.

“Otters have always been around this area, but never in these numbers. There are now so many that they’re having a hugely disruptive impact on the breeding avocets we have at the Buxton Conservation Trust, of which I’m a trustee.

“This year the birds tried at least three times to breed, as a result the numbers that did were down by around two thirds. It’s got to the point where we’ll have to erect low-level electric fences to keep the otters away and protect the birds.

“We’re also seeing the otters take water birds and pheasants, as well as eating the rare white-clawed crayfish,” he added.

Filmmaker, angler and Springwatch contributor Hugh Miles has also seen first hand the damage that the otter is doing in the area. “When I was up at Pensthorpe earlier in the year with Springwatch, the problem was evident.

The BBC team were worried about the avocet chicks they had up there as otters will take birds if they can.

“I also did some underwater filming on the Wensum for the programme. Two thirds of the chub and barbel in there had some form of otter damage.” Mike Heylin, chairman of the Angling Trust, spoke to AT about the problem, stating: “When you put an apex predator into an environment with no controls, this is what happens. It’s bad for fish, it’s bad for birds and other wildlife, as this case highlights, and it will ultimately be bad for otters as their numbers get further out of control.

“The sooner anglers’ calls to have otter numbers controlled are listened to, the better, and the trust welcomes Richard Benyon’s recent comments on the subject.”