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Solving an Otter Problem

In February 2012 Sylvia Jay was contacted by the Environment Agency after Chris, an operative responsible for maintaining a river flow gauging station in North Yorkshire, had spotted an otter there. A keen wildlife photographer, from the opposite bank he took an amazing shot of the animal taking dried grass into one of the concrete chambers of the gauging station.

But this otter presented a problem: the Environment Agency needs unrestricted access into the chamber since the gauging station provides essential river level and flow data for flood risk management. Conversely, wildlife legislation prohibits disturbance to otters in their place of shelter or protection, and an otter taking in bedding was strong evidence the chamber was being used as such a resting site.

With Chris’s help, Sylvia carried out a programme of monitoring to determine what the otter was up to at this and the three other similar chambers on the site. This included installing ‘sand traps’ to log the tracks of otters travelling up the river bank to the chamber entrances, and setting up a remote camera trap to record otter activity.

The monitoring picked up no new otter activity, though Chris saw them on the river on a couple of occasions. Once we were satisfied that an otter was not in residence, we opened up the first chamber to find a substantial ‘couch’. It must have taken the otter some effort to bring the material in!

Sylvia put together a Natural England licence application with detailed monitoring and mitigation, including the construction of an artificial otter holt nearby, to enable the Environment Agency to permanently exclude otters from using the chamber without comprising the local otter population. The licence was approved without amendments.