If you have seen an otter recently, or signs of their presence, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) want to know about it.
The NPWS is launching a new National Otter Survey and has teamed up with researchers in Queen’s University Belfast and the National Biodiversity Data Centre to collect and collate otter records from right across the country. The new survey will map otters and compare results to the last survey, carried out in 2010-11. NPWS teams will be looking for characteristic signs of otters at over 900 sites throughout the country, including rivers, lakes and the coast. Members of the public are asked to keep their eyes peeled for otters and to get involved in this national survey by adding their sightings to the survey results.
Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan said: “While NPWS teams will be out conducting fieldwork research, people can play their part in giving us a complete picture of otter numbers in the country so we want as much public participation as possible on this. The public plays an important role in research such as this that ultimately helps us to develop the evidence to inform policy. Otters can be hard to find and mainly forage at night so keep your eyes peeled if you’re visiting a coastal, river or lake environment in the evening or night time and make sure to let us know if you’ve seen one.”
Dr Ferdia Marnell, Mammal Specialist with the NPWS, emphasised: “The otter is one of Ireland’s most elusive animals so getting as many people involved in the survey as possible will be important if we are to get good coverage. Otters are rarely seen, so instead, over the coming months, NPWS staff will be searching for otter tracks and signs.”
He added: “Otters have large, webbed feet and leave distinctive footprints, but these can be hard to find. Fortunately, otters mark their territory using droppings known as ‘spraints’. Otters deposit spraints conspicuously on boulders along riverbanks, logs on lake shores or the rocky high tide line. Spraints can be up to 10 cm or 3 inches long, black through to white but commonly brown, tarry to powdery in consistency and straight or curved making them tricky to identify. Luckily, they commonly contain fish bones and crayfish shells which are the otters favoured diet making them easy to tell apart from the droppings of birds and other mammals.”
Otters are mostly active at night and most typically seen at dawn or dusk. They may be spotted from bridges swimming in rivers or along the rocky seashore. Otters are brown, about 80 cm (30 inches) long and can be seen gliding along the water surface before diving to show their distinctive long pointed tail which is almost as long again as their body.
The otter and its habitat are protected under the EU Habitats Directive which requires that Ireland reports on the status of the species every six years. The next report is due in 2025.
Members of the public can learn more about otters and submit recordings of otter sightings at the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s dedicated webpage: https://biodiversityireland.ie/surveys/national-otter-survey/