Holding a large brown animal dropping in your hand is not everyone’s idea of fun but, for Writtle College conservation lecturer Alan Roscoe, this is a good day. What he is holding is an otter dropping, or ‘spraint’, which proves that otters are back on the College’s estate after an absence of many years.
“Otter poo isn’t the most glamorous thing to get excited about”, confesses Alan, “but it does prove one of our best-loved mammals is back.”
Otters suffered huge declines across Britain in the early and mid parts of the last century but are now starting to make a comeback, aided by cleaner water and a number of conservation projects.
Alan continues, “The reason we get excited about them is not just because they are fabulous creatures – which they are – it is also because we think they carry out an important role in the conservation of their cousin, the water vole. We had water vole on the College estate until about seven years ago but they all disappeared about the same time we started seeing American mink. Mink do not belong in Britain and they are very bad news for the voles, going up and down rivers and streams eating any vole which gets in their way. But otters, which are close relatives of the mink, are twice as big and ten times as heavy and we think they may drive the mink out of the area, leaving it safe for water vole again.”
“Otters are rather shy and the fact that they are also active at night means that most people will never actually see one. But just to know they are back is a great!”
Pictured – Alan Roscoe by the River Can holding Otter Spraint. (Please credit Alan Roscoe for photo)