Otters – A Good Measure of How Safe Our Water Is

Zoology students from the University of Hull undertook a two year study, aided by state-of-the-art technology and DNA analysis and the study revealed the presence of three wild otters living at Tophill Low Nature Reserve. That’s definitely something to be excited about because a thriving population of otters, no matter how small it may be is a good measure of how safe our water is.

Situated in the River Hull catchment not too far from Driffield, the nature reserve is a prime breeding ground for otters, thanks largely to the clean waters it plays home to and thriving lamprey and trout fish populations. Otters have proven not to be too easy to find however as a result of their exclusive nature.

To identify the otters, Stefan Rooke, a Hull University Zoology student carried out an analysis of visitor-contributed photographs which were snapped at the popular nature reserve as well as images caught on hidden cameras they set up. Following a compilation of all the evidence some interesting discoveries were made. They found that no less than three otters were living at the nature reserve – a one-eyed male and two females.

Another student Zoe Latham conducted further surveying work which also resulted in some interesting findings. The male otter was hunting water birds at night from the reservoirs situated at the nature reserve. Camera footage shows the other otters eating tufted ducks, black-headed gulls, coots and a herring gull as well, with a five-foot wing span.

Back from the brink of extinction

During the 30-year period running from 1950 to 1980, national otter surveys found that they were just about to go extinct. A colossal 97% of them were lost to English rivers. Since the water quality has markedly improved however, the efforts made in recent decades to prevent pesticides from seeping into the water courses has resulted in a boost to the fish population, which in turn boosts otter numbers as well. Tophill Low nature reserve which is owned by Yorkshire Water is a safe haven for wild otters, with efforts by a local volunteer force to build artificial holts for the otters aiding the process of creating a good living environment for them. It all comes back down to the safety of the water however and the fact that fish and otter populations are vibrant again speaks volumes of its safety.

Richard Hampshire, Yorkshire Water’s Reserve Warden at Tophill Low Nature Reserve said: “For our photographers the otter is a charismatic, iconic species and much sought after.  It’s a great asset for the region and helps with the developing nature tourism economy in East Yorkshire as people travel to what’s recognised as one of the best places to see the animal in lowland Britain.”

The decline in otter numbers was as a direct result of the introduction of certain pesticides such as dieldrin. Since the withdrawal of such pesticides alongside improved waste water treatment methods by Yorkshire Water, the otters are now healthily thriving once again. What better way to measure the safety of your water than through its desirability to otters and by extension, fish and birdlife?