Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Return of the Otter

Otters have been seen locally. Altogether it’s very good news and although understandably the authorities want to keep  the animal’s location secret it is cause for celebration. Otters have been seen locally. I’ve been told  they are living in the waterways of the Moorlands including in the upper reaches of the Trent as well as the Churnet. They have even  been seen within the boundaries of Stoke!!  This sleek and playful mammal almost became extinct about 50 years ago as a combination of persecution and change to  its habitat. One factor was the use of pesticides after the War which affected fish stocks on which the Otter depends. Belatedly in 1978 the Government banned hunting of the animal and the Otter achieved further protection from wildlife legislation passed in 1981.  It is certainly a testament to the cleanliness of local rivers especially the Trent which suffered from pollution and neglect for many years. It is not only in Staffordshire but reports of otter increase have been reported from the Ribble in Lancashire to the Medway in Kent in areas where they have not been reported for many years

I have never seen the animal in the wild. My only sight has been at refuge centres in Devon and Derbyshire but it is certainly an engaging, inquisitive creature almost child like in its liveliness. Otters are playful animals and appear to engage in various behaviours for sheer enjoyment, such as making water slides and diving in to rivers. They may also find and play with small stones. It is also a ferocious defender of its territory and family. It’s the top of the chain as a predator of the waterways feeding on fish and water fowl. Of course its increase has attracted grumbles from some anglers who complain that the growth in numbers has had an impact on fish stocks. However I for one think that the re appearance and advance of the Otter in the Staffordshire Moorlands is unalloyed good news.

Lutra Lutra to give it its Latin name appears in many myths. In Welsh legends the sorceress Ceridwen left young Gwion to guard her cauldron, but he tasted the draught accidentally gaining knowledge of all things. He transformed into a hare to escape her anger, but she pursued him as a dog. When he plunged into the river as a salmon, Ceridwen became an otter to continue her pursuit. Gwion was eventually reborn as the great bard, Taliesin.

. The animal features frequently in modern literature. The Otter in Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows is an affable character, with a particularly adventurous son who lives up to the creatures playful image .Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson follows the life of an otter in the rivers of North Devon, and Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water recounts the touching, funny and tragic true story of his friendship with otters, giving a lyrical portrayal of their intelligence and irrepressible sense of fun. It was later filmed. But perhaps my favourite Otter story is the short story Laura by Saki in which the dying woman has her wish granted by  coming back as an Otter with an “elegant svelte figure”