New recovery targets for the UK’s threatened otter populations have been set by the government following confirmation that the species has been sighted in every major British city. Last year, otters were discovered in central London for the first time in over a century. By 2010, the British government has pledged to restore breeding otters to all the areas where they were recorded prior to the 1960s - river banks, lakes and coastal areas.
A new Biodiversity Action Plan target issued by the government aims to return the aquatic mammal to 85 percent of its former river habitat by 2015. Biodiversity Action Plans are targeted actions to protect and enhance 391 species and 45 habitats that are under threat in the UK, including otters.
While otter monitoring studies are conducted every seven years, the Environment Agency gives no current otter population figures. The agency does say that the most promising improvement in otter populations has been in England where otters are now found in almost twice as many areas as they were 10 years ago.
"In the late 1970s our initial goal was to consolidate numbers and stop the otter population from further losses. At this time only six percent of traditional sites in England had evidence of otters," said Scholey. But with water quality and habitat improvements, scientific surveys have shown that otters have returned to at least 75 percent of the territory that once formed their traditional range.
"This doesn’t mean these rivers have established viable long-term populations," he said. "In some cases it may only be one or two otters moving back into an area where their ancestors had previously flourished. But it’s a good sign."
The otter is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which means they cannot be traded. They are protected under the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, known as the Bern Convention, and also under the European Union's Habitats Directive.