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Look out, look out, Otters about!

By Clive Martin

In 1999 I attended a seminar on the subject of Dorset Otters run by The Dorset Wildlife Trust. Having been a wildlife enthusiast since the age of six I was able to get great information about how I could help monitor the status of this enigmatic river creature to our local rivers and streams.

At the hands of man this animal had been driven to the very point of extinction. Once the Otter Hounds had “done their job” and nearly eradicated the otter then poisons took over to finish the job!

Fortunately, as the human being often does with wildlife, we came to our senses just in time and the consequences are that the European river otter (Lutra lutra) has made a remarkable comeback.

So my task was to observe the rivers and streams local to Verwood and look for signs of any otter activity.

Can you try to imagine a very boring little concrete pathway bridge adjacent to Potterne Park and a lady taking her beloved pooch for a walk when from underneath this bridge, as she walked over it, came a “Eureka” shriek….I had found my first evidence of the comeback to Verwood rivers of the Otter. A tar marking!! The dear dog walker nearly died of shock!

Otters leave behind them good evidence of their presence, one such clue is a territorial “splodge” known as a tar mark. This together with a more solid form of “pooh” known as a “spraint” is simply irrefutable evidence of otter presence. The smell is unique.

So you have got the hang of this…otter experts lurk under bridges and shriek and they smell pooh !  Wonderful! Weird…well yes …but actually it really was wonderful and I will never forget my first success at monitoring the presence of this creature once again in Verwood.

So time has gone on and we are now in a time when lots of folk take the trouble and are rewarded with wildlife interests and sightings…..and sightings of otters are becoming common place in a certain area of Verwood. Let me explain. Young otters, in particular the young males (dogs) are forced to find territories of their own and as such go on a wander.

One such otter is doing exactly this in an area of Verwood and local residents may not be pleased with his activities.

He has discovered that breakfast lunch and dinner is provided by us humans in the form of otter restaurants known to us as ponds !

Residents of the area adjacent to the Dewlands Common area are being visited by such a rascal and are devastated to find that their fish and frogs have been wiped out in one sitting and generally overnight. Coy carp are expensive and let’s face it even fish become part of the family….so to have them decimated is not funny.

I have heard reports of strange animals being seen by the illumination of street lamps….of dogs maniacally barking….and of several ponds being attacked by unknown nocturnal beasts of the night.

So the purpose of this article is to suggest that residents of the area mentioned and even beyond it protect their ponds…..otherwise you may suffer the consequences of a hungry otter who has absolutely no compunction in eating your £500 Coy Carp and everything else in your pond including the frogs…legs and all!

Lightweight plastic protective meshing is not good enough and you might consider a DIY wooden framed wire meshing as mitigation! Whatever you use make it strong and leave no access to the pond.

Can I just add that the otter is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act so please don’t even think about harming them………you have been warned and you can protect your ponds so please do so…or suffer a pile of scales and bones one morning.

 See: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/ottersandstillwaterfisheries_tcm6-4592.pdf

It gives useful info on how you can secure your pond against otter predation.