The angling world this week discovered the full extent of the spread of otters when a document detailing the national distribution of the species was published.
Research carried out by the Environment Agency has revealed that the predator recovered from virtual extinction in most of England during the 1970s and has now reached record levels in every county except for Kent.
The first otter survey was carried out between 1977 and 1979, and of the 2,940 river sites surveyed in England, only 5.8 per cent of these showed evidence of the creatures.
However, the latest research, conducted in 2009-10, shows that otter numbers have increased 10-fold in the last 30 years, apparently due to the improvement in water quality and the legal protection of the species. Venues such as the River Wye and running water fisheries in the South West, Wessex and Northumbria are showing the biggest populations, while rivers in and around Kent currently boast the lowest numbers in the UK.
Apart from revealing the true scale of their presence, the report has also acted as a clear warning to the nation’s anglers.
“Unless we accept that fish must take their chances in the environment like anything else, then we will see a constant state of claim and counter claim and calls for action,” said the report’s author Andrew Crawford, of the EA.
“Stillwaters may need to be physically protected to guarantee longevity for specimens, otherwise some losses should be expected and allowed for. On rivers, it is likely that specimen fish will become more the exception rather than the norm, with the natural levels of predation now being restored.”
Manager of Mid Kent Fisheries, Chris Logsdon spoke to AT about the issue, and, although his waters are situated in areas which currently have little or no otters, his concerns revolve around the sheer numbers of the apex predator.
“It’s only a matter of time before Kent suffers the same fate as other parts of the UK,” said Chris.
“I don’t have anything against otters, but it’s the sheer numbers I don’t agree with. If wolves had been released back into the wild and started killing farmers’ livestock, then there would be national outcry. But because it’s fish that are being slaughtered by otters, the general public just don’t care.”
Chairman of the Angling Trust Mark Lloyd has been at the forefront of the drive to put pressure on the Government over otters.
He thinks that the research is a ‘smoke screen’ created by the EA to put a ‘good spin’ on otter-related issues to cover up other problems that are affecting are sport.
“Angling’s currently fighting a huge battle to try to get the Government to grant funding to protect our fisheries. For the EA to come out and pretty much say there is nothing wrong with our rivers because otters are thriving is just nonsense,” said Mark.