Otter Spotted in Rotherham - will we see them again this year?
A member of the weasel family, with their elongated bodies, and webbed feet, otters are excellent predators in the water. The river otter seeks overgrown river banks, where they can raise their young.
Otters in Rotherham
Otters look for clean rivers with plentiful fish stocks. The sighting of an otter, which was posted to Rotherham Town Council’s Facebook page on 10 March 2022, is a good indicator of the health of the river. This implies that the fish stocks must also be thriving to have brought in the thickly furred mammals to the river banks.
What do residents think?
Andrew Towlerton is a chartered town planner and is a long-standing resident of Rotherham.
Why is this sighting so important to Rotherham? “It is otterly unbelievable. It came as a great surprise to me and a great many other residents of Rotherham. It’s remarkable that one was sighted after such a long absence. Especially in a river which for years had been associated with pollution. It is a clear indication that the habitats where otters can be found in Rotherham are improving.”
Does this show that Rotherham's waterways are healthy? “I am unsure whether it indicates that Rotherham has healthy waterways but it does provide firm evidence that they are improving.”
Why is having diverse wildlife beneficial for residents as well as the environment? “It is an important and strong indicator of a sustainable and caring community. They are an integral part of the ecosystem. I hope this otter sighting provides a trigger for further surveys in the hope of detecting additional individuals.”
River otters are one of Britain's great conservational triumphs. From the 1950s to the 1990s, otter numbers decreased rapidly and were almost wiped out completely from our waterways. Despite a hunting , the water quality was so poor due to agricultural pesticides and chemicals leaking into rivers as well as the food chain, that the otter numbers still continued to decline. Thankfully these chemicals were banned which meant the water quality slowly started to improve and fish populations gradually returned.
Otters are such efficient predators and not everyone is glad of their return. Some anglers are anxious that fish stocks will plummet with the return of otters. One Facebook user commented under Rotherham Town Centre’s post, reading, “Friendly face, you won’t be saying that when it starts killing everything.” with another commenting “Great, more fish eaters.”
Like in any ecosystem, a rise in predator population will lead to a short-term drop in the prey species. However, when fish numbers drop, otter numbers will follow, allowing the fish population to thrive again, and vice versa.
Article created by Leon Wilson Brown, student at Sheffield University
Further edited by Lucy Gomm, student at Sheffield Hallam University