Get close (really close) to wild otters

BBC wildlife cameraman, John Aitchison reveals the best places in Britain to see these creatures of habit. 

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Until just 20 years ago British otter populations were in freefall, but now they seem to be everywhere – not long ago one was seen less than 2km from Tower Bridge in central London. So there’s no better time to get close to the mammal that BBC Wildlife readers voted as their favourite in 2008.

Where to look? In fresh water, otters are mostly nocturnal, supposedly because they love to eat eels that are easier to catch at night, though recently there have been more sightings during the day. (Perhaps otters are getting bolder as their numbers recover?) At wetlands such as Leighton Moss in Lancashire and the various reserves on the Somerset Levels, otters often appear in front of public hides. They are creatures of habit, so keep visiting the same hide at the same time as they were last seen.

The marine otters of Scotland’s western and northern shores are much easier to find. They fish more by day and their ranges are smaller, too. On the coast, with one bank not two and less tall vegetation than a river, there are also fewer places for them to hide. Take binoculars and, if the area’s new to you, pore over a map. Look for rocky shores with shallow water offshore and fresh water nearby. Otters also love islands and points – they’re safe places to fish from and sleep on, so they’re ideal spots to scan while you wait. Tides can make a difference: you’re more likely to strike gold on a rising tide.

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