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Issue 18 - Rare but welcome river dweller

Scotland Magazine Issue 18
January 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Rare but welcome river dweller

Otters are making a comeback. Graham Holliday reports

Otter numbers throughout the United Kingdom declined from the 1950s as a result of pesticides entering the food chain.

This large fish and crab-eating predator, about the size of a small dog, can be found in rivers, lochs and the sea and is often nocturnal although you might catch it fishing by day in more remote areas. The European otter is the only species found in the UK and is related to other members of the weasel family, namely badgers, weasels, stoats, pine marten and mink.

The otter is listed in the International Union for the Conservation of Natures’ (IUCN) Red Book as ‘vulnerable to extinction’, but it is thought to have made a comeback in recent years and can be found throughout Scotland in reasonably healthy numbers.

The most recent government surveys in 1996 found 6,600 otters in Scotland out of a UK total population of 7,350. The latest survey results are due by the end of 2004.

The viewing hide at Kylerhea Otter Haven Car Park on the Isle of Skye is a good place to see otters with views across the Kylerhea narrows to Glenelg and the Kintail mountains. Skye and the surrounding small islands are home to 353 otters.

Otter researcher, Dr. Paul Yoxon of the International Otter Survival Fund, is based in Broadford on the Isle of Skye and gets the occasional good view of otters from his office.

Otter territory can cover between one and three kilometres along the seashore and between five and 20 km along freshwater rivers and lakes. However, otters do not migrate and tend to live in the same place year round.

Breeding takes place at two years old, although there is no ‘breeding season’. An average litter consists of one to two otter cubs.

Otters have no main predators. Pollution and pesticides are the main threats. They are brown with a lighter coloured brown bib and have an amusing lolloping gait as they run on land. When they swim their long flat tails clearly flip above the surface as they dive below the surface. They call to each other using high-pitched squeaks.

Mick Canham is chief ranger for the Forestry Commission in Ordiequish Woods, south of Fochabers on the Moray Firth. Otters are present, but you’ll need a keen eye and a wee bit of luck to see them.

“They are not easily viewed. In common With other otters in this part of the country they are largely nocturnal. The population in the Fochabers burn area is a typical family grouping of an adult female with the young. Adult males often cover a larger territory and tend to be solitary except at
mating time.”

Canham estimates there are perhaps three adult females present in the Ordiequish area. “Otters use scent marking to let other otters know of their presence and it is these signs, in the form of scats, that allow estimates of otter presence and to a lesser extent abundance to be made.”

Portree & Broadford Tourist Information Centre Bayfield House, Bayfield Road, Portree, Isle of Skye Tel: +44 (0)1478 612 137

Kylerhea Otter Haven Car Park

The Otter Haven has a viewing hide and is open year round between 09.30 to 17.00. In the summer, there is a warden in the hide who will
answer questions

Getting there:

Either take the summer ferry from Glenelg to Kylerhea or from the A850 on Skye. Three and a half miles west of the Skye Bridge, take the road to Kylerhea. Near Kylerhea and at the signpost, turn north on the small track to the Otter Haven Car Park Tel: +44 (0)1320 366 322

Fochabers Burn

There is a 1.5 mile long ‘red walk’ which takes an hour to complete. It passes through pine forest and the lower section has views back to
the village

Getting there:

On foot – from the village, follow the path along the burn side or join it from the track between the tree nursery fields. From the Burnside Caravan Park, cross the Fochabers Burn at the south end of the campsite and climb up the steps Tel: +44 (0)1343 820 223

Skye accommodation:
The 84 roomed Dunollie Hotel is located on the harbour wall at Broadford with views across the sea to Loch Kishorn and the Applecross Hills.
Rooms from £55 Tel: +44 (0)1471 822 253 dunollie@british-trusthotels. com www.british-trusthotels. com/dunollie_hotel_skye/dunollie_hotel_skye.html

The Sligachan Hotel, Sligachan has 22 rooms, most have views over the Cuillins or down Loch Sligachan. There is also self catering in a large bunkhouse which sleeps up to 20 people, two cottages sleeping eight people each, and a house sleeping 10. The hotel is known for its good beer. Tel: +44 (0)1478 650 204

The three-star Skye Picturehouse in Ard Dorch, is a small, waterfront guest house, seven miles from Broadford. There’s nearly two acres of ‘natural’ grounds with sea-shore out front with otters, herons and other sea birds. The owners also run photography holidays. Tel: +44 (0)1471 822 531 Rooms from £22

Fochabers accommodation:
The Old Kirk Dyke, Forres, Moray B&B in an elegant ‘B listed’ old church which dates back to 1843, five miles east of Elgin Tel: +44 (0)1309 641 414 The Gordons Arms Hotel. Fochabers is a 200 year old former coaching inn once a stopover for highwaymen
Tel: +44 (0)1343 820 508

Ardgye House is a four star Edwardian mansion house Guesthouse, three miles from Elgin and set in woodland with views over Laich of Murray and across the Moray Firth. Rooms from £25 Tel: +44 (0)1343 850 618

Otter information:
The Otter Trust

The Mammal Society

International Otter
Survival Fund

Images this feature courtesy
International Otter
Survival Fund

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