Gill Brown, leader of the YACWAG Otter Group reports:-
So far 2015 has been a good year for otters. I saw very small otter footprints on a frosty wooden bridge on my local patch between Christmas and the New Year. This was a wonderful late Christmas present as it confirmed that the female who surprised me with two cubs early in 2013 had produced another litter. I wasn’t sure how many cubs there were, but last Saturday I was told that an otter with two youngsters had been seen in broad daylight near Tickenham Church.
There have also been reports of a female with cubs on Nailsea Moor. I was worried about the implications of the work on the Hinkley C connection in that area, but I had a very constructive meeting with the National Grid ecologist yesterday morning and am reassured that the disruption will be fairly minimal. I have also been assured that communications will be kept open while the work is going on.
Thank you to all our surveyors for the sterling work they are doing. We are building up quite a detailed picture of otter activity in the area, but there are some patches that aren’t covered at the moment, so if anyone thinks they could help please contact me.
I have taken on the role of President of the Mammal Section of the Bristol Naturalists Society. I would like to invite anyone who is interested to come along to the AGM at BAWA at 7.30pm on Friday 22nd May, the ‘official’ section will be very short! Please contact me if you would like further information.
Gill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Weather conditions are generally more pleasant in the summer for surveying but can be made difficult by bank side vegetation – nettles are an occupational hazard! From survey returns it seems that the otter population in this area seems very stable, which is encouraging. There are signs of expansion on the Land Yeo, with spraint being found much further upstream than in recent years – possibly a sign of one of the cubs born in late 2012 moving on.
On the theme of moving on Kiri Green, one of the co-ordinators of the Otter Group, has moved with husband Stew to the other side of Bristol so they will now be working with the Bristol Otter Survey Group, where I’m sure their expertise will be greatly appreciated. There is plenty of contact between our groups, so it’s not really ‘goodbye’, but I would like to thank Kiri for all the work and enthusiasm she put into the setting up and running of the YACWAG group. Without her it just wouldn’t have happened!
You may be interested in the message below, sent to all the otter surveyors …..
I hope you are all enjoying the good weather. As the river water recedes it is a really good time to spot fresh prints in the mud. Unfortunately there seem to be quite a few mink about at the moment especially on the Land Yeo.
The Land Yeo is turning out to be a real otter hot spot. One animal has a very distinctive print with a ‘wonky toe’, photo below, this is very interesting as it enables us to track an individual which can’t usually be done without expensive technology or DNA analysis. If anyone finds a similar print elsewhere I would be very interested.
YACWAG has a system in place to send any dead otters found in our area to the Otter Project at Cardiff University where an autopsy will be undertaken. Much can be learned from this – not just the cause of death. You can read about the Otter Project on the Cardiff University website – enter Otter Project in the search box:-
A two day survey in April proved interesting and the results showed it to be worthwhile. The Otter Group pinpointed the location of two otters on the Saturday night, one on the Land Yeo, and the other on Nailsea Parish Brook. Next year Gill Brown will give more notice and we can cast the net a little wider. Based on the records we have collected since regular surveying began Gill thinks 12 otters in our survey area would be a conservative estimate.
Despite the cold weather otter survey records for March look very encouraging, and we have evidence of at least two otters with cubs in our area.
April is now upon us and will hopefully bring some much needed warmth. Traditionally Somerset Otter Group conducts a two day survey this month. It involves surveyors visiting their sites on two consecutive days on one weekend and noting any overnight otter activity. This allows them to pinpoint the exact location of otters in their area on a given night and make an estimate of numbers. We hope that some of our North Somerset surveyors will take part in the survey on 27 and 28 April.
YACWAG’s otter surveyors have been diligently carrying out surveys, hampered slightly by the wet weather in recent months.
3 members of the group went to the Cardiff University Otter Project to help with Post Mortems. This was a very interesting, if tiring, day. Between them they helped with 8 PMs and gained a real insight into the work they did. If anyone would like to know more please get in touch with email@example.com. Neither of the girls they worked with had been surveying, or seen a live otter, so our Otter Group has promised to take them out one day.
If anyone is interested in the otters and fisheries issue, which has been featured in the press recently, the proceedings of the conference that our Otter Group leaders went to in Edinburgh last November are now available on line (http://www.otter.org/research.aspx). This gives a more balanced view and makes for interesting reading.
If anyone finds otter signs please report them to the Otter Group, the more information we have about local otters (and those a bit further afield) the clearer the picture becomes.
Gill Brown reports that our otter surveyors are making progress surveying their allocated sites. The better weather has been very welcome though conditions are still not ideal – high water levels, mud underfoot, and luxuriant vegetation don’t make life easy, but it’s still good to be outside.
Some exciting news – water vole signs have been found on the Land Yeo near Nailsea. This means that water voles are now spreading south of the M5. If you want to know what to look for this website provides an excellent guide. http://www.sussexotters.org/pdf/How%20to%20be%20a%20water%20vole%20spotter.pdf
Gill is thinking of organising some water vole training later in the year if there is enough interest.
On Thursday 15 March Gill and Kiri ran a very successful training session for volunteers who wished to help with otter surveying – thanks for the excellent turnout which was very encouraging at the start of this project.