First footage of otter in River Don

Tuesday 9th August 2016

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust is celebrating catching some video footage of an otter on a special camera trap funded by its Otterly Amazing! appeal. Despite barely being on screen for three seconds the films leaves no doubt that these shy and elusive creatures have set up home in the River Don.

The film can be viewed on You Tube or via the link on the Nature Counts page.

The screen appearance is the first significant milestone in a two-year Nature Counts project funded with £99,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to record animals and plants species across Sheffield. Nature Counts is headed by Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust working with Sheffield’s Universities, Museums Sheffield: Weston Park, the City Council, Natural England, natural history specialist groups and the general public. Members of the public are being engaged as ‘citizen scientists’ to help capture their wildlife sightings to help build a clear ‘State of Nature’ in Sheffield.

Paul Richards, Nature Counts Engagement Officer at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust said: “It is such a thrill to see a real-life otter on one of the cameras. We’ve seen a lot of evidence that they are around, like tracks and droppings, but this is the first concrete evidence showing the animal itself. We’ve now repositioned the cameras to get some better footage to help us find out more about how many there are and what they’re doing.”

Thanks to National Lottery players 14 volunteers have been recruited and trained as part of the Nature Counts project to help identify signs of otters, such as their tracks and map their presence along Sheffield’s rivers. They have also learned how to recognise the distinctive smell of their poo, known as ‘spraints’. More training and surveys will follow.

It is not known exactly how many otters there are in the UK currently, although the figure has plummeted since the 1950s. By the 1970s otters were virtually absent from much of England and Wales, with a few strongholds remaining in Scotland. The otters were brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to a breeding programme in the 80s and 90s. Surveys undertaken by the Wildlife Trust in Sheffield began to show signs that Otters were returning around 10 years ago, but the current survey hopes to provide more detail and up to date records. It is thought that otters have returned to the River Don thanks to improvements to the city’s waterways, water quality and fish populations by the Environment Agency and partner organisations.

The Wildlife Trust has carried out a variety of improvements to wetland habitats along the Don and Rother- including its Centenary Riverside reserve, which was formerly where the Seven Sisters foundry was located. Dr Nicky Rivers, Project Manager said: We would like to thank the public and our funders for their support of the Otterly Amazing appeal and are glad we can report some initial results. This work will help us to work strategically with partners to conserve wildlife habitats for otters, and other wildlife, living in and around Sheffield’s waterways.”

Fiona Spiers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund, Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Few people realise that every lottery ticket has the potential to save the UK’s landscapes, countryside and creatures, but otters are as important a part of our heritage as Botticelli. Imagine if future generations don’t have the chance to enjoy the sight of the otter because we didn’t do enough to save them now.”

The Otterly Amazing! appeal was launched in 2015 and succeeded in attracting over £20,000 in donations from the public, topping up contributions from Yorkshire Water, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Bannister Charitable Trust. The Wildlife Trust welcomes any donations to help extend the scope if this project, these can be made via the Otterly Amazing! page.

To find out more, and get involved, please visit the Nature Counts page or follow the project hashtag #naturecounts on facebook and twitter (@wildsheffield) for updates.