We were “Otterly” (Oooo that’s such a bad pun! 😊) thrilled to record this gorgeous Otter on several occasions over the last few weeks at Wildacres.
They are such fascinating charismatic creatures.
We had previously recorded footage last year, of one on the Redcross river bordering Wildacres nature reserve. Though it was even more satisfying to see the recent footage of this one, on the banks of our main wildlife pond.
There is a well-worn trail from the river up into the first pond, continuing then on into the main wildlife pond above. This shows how important a habitat these wildlife ponds are and that the Otter are using them for foraging.
There would be various prey items they could forage for in there such as frogs, newts, sticklebacks (small native fish), small mammals, waterfowl, small crustaceans and lots more.
The Eurasian Otter population in Ireland is estimated at 10,000 adults (Vincent Wildlife Trust) and this is considered of international importance. As across their European range they have suffered a serious decline and in some areas, are now extinct.
Though we cannot rest on our laurels, as here also their numbers have been in decline over recent decades.
The reason we have a good population of Otters nationally is we have a such a wet temperate climate and extensive coastline. Also the fact that we have, or had more so in times past, an abundance of inland waterbodies. This is the perfect habitat for this intriguing elusive Irish mammal.
Though now for the depressing bit, the reason for their decline in numbers here in Ireland (and across their range worldwide).
Yes, the same reasons for the alarming decline in many of our precious wildlife species – habitat degradation and destruction resulting from intensification of agriculture and urbanisation, canalization (straightening) of rivers and streams, draining of wetlands, pollution and the resultant decrease in prey items due to these factors.
The riparian habitat, so important for many species is vital for Otters. (Riparian is the term given to the land immediately bordering along the length of the river or stream bank).
Often, this vitally important habitat has been stripped of vegetation due to overgrazing by farm animals. This then leads to excess erosion, as the riverbank, normally supported by shrub and tree roots, is unsupported and in flood events, ends up collapsing into the floodwater and silting up the river gravel beds. This in turn then severely damages this sensitive river ecosystem.
Otters rely on this habitat to hunt, move along their extensive territory under cover of vegetation and finally, to set up their breeding location known as a Holt. The holt is usually located in an existing crevice deep under tree roots, or disused burrow in or close to a riverbank, or lakeshore
At Wildacres over recent years we have been working hard to restore the riparian zone and riverbank, on the beautifull stretch of the Redcrosss river we have bordering the nature reserve. We are doing this by supporting the river bank with temporary bays filled with mostly freshly cut willow brash, which in turn quickly roots into the riverbank reinforcing it. Also, we have planted hundreds of native trees and shrubs along the river’s edge to further restore this habitat.
So back to our wonderful Otter!
It is an animal wonderfully adapted to its mostly aquatic lifestyle with webbed feet and a muscular tail, enabling it to swim strongly in pursuit of its main prey, salmonoids such as trout and salmon.
Also in its aquatic habitat to maintain body temperature, it has a double fur coat which is externally waterproof, and beneath that is thick and insulating.
It has sensitive whiskers which it uses to locate its prey in dark and even muddy water and eyes and ears that seal over when it submerges.
They will mark their territory and advertise to attract a mate by leaving a spraint (Otter poo). It is usually deposited on a grassy elevated tussock, tree stump, or mound.
Now the quirky fact, this Otter poop incredibly has quite a pleasant smell, some say that it resembles Jasmine tea!
And yes, I can testify to that having taken the dubious decision to smell a few spraints found at Wildacres , and they do smell quite pleasant!
Who knows maybe we will be launching a new Wildacres exclusive, must have fragrance… Eau D’Otter !… Maybe not…
Back on track…
The female will scent mark her territory to let males know she is receptive to mating and pregnancy will last approximately two months.
Litter sizes on average range between two and five cubs and the young otter cubs will emerge from their maternity holt after a further two months.
The young Otters will stay together as a family unit for about six months before dispersing to set up their own territories.
At Wildacres we have plans in the future to set up some artificial holts to help them, as often a female and cubs will move between different holts.
Though for now we will focus on other projects making Wildacres even more optimal a habitat for our beloved Otters and for all other wildlife from beetles to bats and newts to nettles.
Create the habitat for the plants and smaller creatures and the larger ones will follow. Advice that applies from nature reserves to back gardens.
Check out our biodiversity tours and workshops on our website. https://wildacres.ie/whats-on/ You can view the wonderful 5 star reviews we are receiving, on google.
We would be ‘otterly’ thrilled to welcome you to this special place.