The otter is making a dramatic comeback to England’s rivers and wetlands and we are delighted to be able to tell you that signs of otters have been seen along the banks of the Clough in Garsdale.
The Environment Agency carries out otter surveys across England on a three year cycle. Because otters are at the top of the food chain, monitoring the status of the otter population gives a valuable measure of the state of our water and wetland ecosystems. The surveys consist of checking for signs of otters by looking for spraints and footprints within 300m of bridges. The most recent survey in 2010 surveyed 100 sites in the Lune Catchment and positive signs of otters were found in 70 sites including the Clough River. This is a large increase on 2007 when positive signs were seen in only 37 sites. The survey also records signs of mink, but the Parish Council has not received information about whether signs of mink were also detected. As otters have not been re-introduced into the area, the spread of them can be attributed to the natural re-colonisation of the region and is a good indicator of how much habitats have improved in recent years.
The once common otter started declining in the mid 1950’s and came close to extinction in England in the late 1970’s. The main reason for the decline in otter numbers appears to have been the use of agricultural pesticides, in particular a group of chemicals called organochlorines and polychlorinated biphenyls which bio-accumulate up the aquatic food chain and impair the reproductive function in mammals. However, following a ban on these harmful pesticides the otter population has slowly recovered and otter surveys suggest that the number of positive sightings has increased tenfold in the last 30 years. Otters have also been helped by a significant improvement in water quality over the last 20 years which has brought fish back to rivers that were once polluted. To help the water quality in our streams and rivers it is important to minimise the amount of nutrients, sewage, silage, slurry, chemicals as well as sediment from erosion and soil run-off entering the water course. These all have a serious effect on the ability of fish and thus otters to survive in our rivers and streams.
The Parish Council would also like to thank the Grants from Winterscales Farm for allowing the Lune Rivers Trust, with funding from the Association of Rivers Trust, to replace their easily blocked pipe bridge over the Clough with one large culvert. This will enable migratory fish and eels to pass upstream, rejuvenating life upstream.