Guide to Otters Springwatch


Guide to Otters

The Springwatch team are joined by Simon King and Charlie Hamilton James for an in-depth view of one of the United Kingdom's most charismatic yet enigmatic animals - the otter.


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Transcript


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I'm on the cycle track

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that goes from Bodmin in Cornwall

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all the way up to Bristol.

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And it takes you through some glorious countryside.

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This bit here is particularly special.

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I always stop here

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because this seems like a perfect spot for otters.

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And, in fact, there are otters here -

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there's probably one watching us right now.

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But even though I've stopped here literally dozens of times,

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I've never seen one.

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But I'm not that surprised.

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Although otters are one of our largest carnivores,

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they're incredibly secretive and hard to see.

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40 years ago, otters very nearly became extinct in England,

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yet they seem to be making a remarkable recovery.

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But what we really know about them? Where are they? How can I see one?

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In the next hour, Springwatch's confirmed otterholics,

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Charlie Hamilton James and Simon King,

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will delve into the secret life of the otter.

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And Chris Packham will explore just what an otter's made of.

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And I'll be delving into the otter's past,

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looking forward into its future, and trying,

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with the help of some simple detective work,

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to see how you and I can actually see one for ourselves.

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So welcome to the Springwatch Guide To Otters.

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Meet the otter - one of our most charismatic animals.

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It's inquisitive, playful, elegant,

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but the otter has another side.

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It's a skilled hunter,

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fiercely territorial about guarding its patch. And what a patch!

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Otters live in some of the most gorgeous places

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in the British Isles.

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They recolonised these islands after the last ice age,

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and over 10,000 years, they've spread out from England rivers

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in the south, right up the coast

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to the northern most islands of Scotland.

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They're generally solitary, secretive creatures

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that like to keep themselves to themselves.

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You might just glimpse a swirl here, or a whiskery snout there,

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before it vanishes in the water,

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leaving nothing but a trail of bubbles.

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So what kind of animal is the otter?

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It's time to meet the family. Chris.

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Well, the otter is a member of the mustelid family of mammals.

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There are 54 species across the world,

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but we have seven in the UK, and here they are.

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You'll certainly be familiar with some of them.

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How about this little chap down here? This is the weasel.

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They're ferocious little carnivores, armed with really sharp canine teeth,

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and this one is especially designed

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to dive down into mouse and vole holes,

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where they predate those species.

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It's slightly larger relative, the stoat,

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does a very similar thing, except that it is after rabbits.

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Over here, we have the polecat.

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Now these are very closely related to

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the domestic ferrets that people keep.

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And then, the most arboreal of all of the British mustelids -

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the fabulous and exquisite pine marten.

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Once a species you could find all over the UK, but these days

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sadly restricted to Scotland, although they are spreading out.

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Perhaps the most familiar of all of them,

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though, is this animal - the badger. And here you can see that,

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typical of this group of animals, it has five non-retractable claws

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on its front foot, because it's using those to dig its set.

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That just leaves us with the two semi-aquatic species,

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the mink and the otter.

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Now, the mink here is not a native of the UK,

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it was introduced from North America.

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In fact, it's made a bit of a pest of itself.

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But the otter is truly a native,

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and when it comes to identification, well, look,

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the mink is significantly smaller, so I think that

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if you get a good view of an animal swimming through the water,

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you shouldn't mistake anything in the UK for the fabulous otter.

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And most of us, when we think about otters, you probably imagine them in

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a river, but they don't just live in rivers, they also live by the coast.

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Some people think that the otters that live in saltwater

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and the otters that live in fresh water

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are two completely different species,

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but they're not, they're the same species, the Eurasian otter.

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And of all the 13 different species of otter that live in the world,

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the Eurasian otter has the widest distribution,

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and if I had a map, I could show you.

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Oh, blow me down! Good Lord, I do have a map!

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So, look, you can see, in the pink,

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that's where the Eurasian otter is distributed.

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So the otters are here, here's the heartland in Europe,

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but they go down south to Morocco, and all the way across here,

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across the Himalayas, down to Indonesia in the south,

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and now up here to Kamchatka Peninsula in the north.

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But for our otters, although they're all the same species,

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they do have two very different lifestyles.

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On rivers in the south, otters are almost entirely active at night,

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while the coastal otters of the north,

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who rely on the shifting tides to hunt, are out and about by day.

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One of the best places to see otters in the UK

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are the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland.

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Here, the sea has battered the coastline over millions of years

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to create 3,000 kilometres of perfect otter habitat -

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a rocky coastline full of shallow pools,

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with plenty of sea caves to rest up in.

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So this is the ideal place for Simon King

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to give us his first guide to otter watching.

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So, Simon, when you're out trying to spot otters,

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what's the first thing you look for?

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Seagulls, obviously!

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There's a black-back, great black-back,

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and herring gulls, all scavenging birds, looking for an easy meal.

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If you see any of those three species sitting on a rock,

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looking down into the rocks,

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it means it's watching an otter that's already feeding,

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and then you can very carefully move yourself around

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to get a view of the otter.

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SEAGULL CAWS

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Following them really closely is all down to field-craft.

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If I'm to stand a chance of a very close view,

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I've got to make my way down the beach,

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and the only way I can do that is to move when the otter is underwater.

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On the surface...

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..and down. OK.

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Otter dives rarely last much longer than 30 seconds,

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so I don't want to move...

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He's up.

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I won't move for much longer than 20 seconds.

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And down again.

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OK, I'm just going to tuck myself into the rocks.

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So it's absolutely vital that

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the wind is blowing from the otter towards me.

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That ensures that my scent doesn't reach the otter.

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OK, it's got a big fish. It's coming in towards me.

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Oh, that's beautiful!

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Just look at that.

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What a great view.

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No more than that.

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(I can't sit up.)

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(She's started to look in my direction.)

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To see an otter, like Simon, you've got to try and think like one.

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Whilst he was in Shetland, Simon got to know

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a couple of otter families, each living either side of a bay.

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There was Ebb, and her cub on one side,

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and Flow with two cubs on the other.

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Beautiful views. This is Flow, off to the right, that's the adult female.

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Her two cubs off to the left, 18 months old now.

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Pretty independent, those cubs,

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but they still depend on their mum for a certain amount of food,

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and, of course, an enormous amount of care and affection.

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They're a very, very close family unit, otters.

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Look at that, lovely serpentine grace,

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moving from land to sea as one,

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and otters that swim together, dive together.

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Look at this, one, two, three, all of them down, looking for food,

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we thought, but then within about a minute or two,

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the cubs were up on the surface having a complete barney.

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Now, this isn't a scrap, this is just hi-jinks, having a good time.

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But nothing being done with any serious aggression here.

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This is the sort of behaviour you might see when otters

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are courting, but right now this is just the youngsters playing together.

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And then, look at this, he loses his mate. "Where's he gone?

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"Where are you? Oh, there you are!"

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He thought the game was over, then it's all off again,

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they're just superb to watch.

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Absolutely magnificent.

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Oh, where is he gone? There you go.

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Quick bundle, and then no sooner did they disappear

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than one of them came up with a huge fish, a lumpsucker.

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They went back into feeding.

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And the game was over.

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Twice a day, these otter families

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have food delivered right to their door.

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A rising tide fills the shoreline with a seafood smorgasbord.

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Although their main diet is fish,

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in Scotland, otters are very partial to crabs.

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But whatever they are hunting,

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otters are spectacularly manoeuvrable underwater.

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How can an animal originally designed for life on the land

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be so good in water? Over to you, Chris.

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You've got to watch your fingers, but this is a fabulous place

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to appreciate just how well the otter

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is adapted to its aquatic environment.

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I'm at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey,

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and these are obviously tame otters.

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They use their rear limbs, which are well webbed,

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to push that body through the water, and then they have that strong,

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stout tail, which they use as a rudder.

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The entire body is incredibly supple, it can twist and turn

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and bend, and when they're swimming as fast as they can,

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they undulate that body to improve their stroke, as it were.

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They want to be as streamlined as they possibly can,

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and, as you can see, they've achieved that

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with a long, lithe, slim body.

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Honestly, beautiful.

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You know, when I was a kid, I was obsessed with otters.

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I was so obsessed that my mother made a fake fur otter.

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It was a terrible representation of this beautiful animal,

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but I would wind it up at the foot of the bed and shine a torch on it

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and squint to make it look real.

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If this had happened to me when I was eight, I'd have burst.

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I'd have burst spontaneously.

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Aw, a childhood dream fulfilled.

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But come on, Chris, focus. Back to the engineering.

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To really understand how an animal works physically,

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we need to look inside it.

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We've got a fabulous opportunity to do that here,

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with this articulated otter skeleton.

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If we consider the vertebral column here,

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it's got all of these flanges, and those are muscle attachment points.

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Now, the bigger and broader they are,

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the larger the muscle is that's attached to them.

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So I can tell you, for instance,

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that there was a lot of muscle tissue there,

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and, therefore, this is a very supple and sinuous animal.

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And let's look at the feet, because, on land,

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this animal is walking on the soles of its feet, just like we do,

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and that tells me that it's not fast-moving,

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because, typically, animals which are fast-moving run on their toes.

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Think of cats and dogs, and horses, of course.

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But, of course, here, it doesn't need to be fast-moving on land,

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what it wants is broad feet, which are webbed, as you know,

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because these are used for pushing the animal through the water.

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So what we've got here is an animal that's supremely adapted

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for an aquatic lifestyle.

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There's no better way to see this than when,

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on a calm day in Shetland, Simon found an otter

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swimming in gin-clear water.

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It's really unusual to find a steep drop-off like this, with water

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directly beneath that's shallow enough to attract an otter to feed.

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And it's one thing to watch these animals on the surface, but look!

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I have to say, this really is the clearest view

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I have ever had of an otter hunting like this,

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and it's immediately clear that it's not chasing fish directly,

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or not at first, but instead... Ooh, there you go.

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..charging after fish that it disturbs from under rocks

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and through the seaweed.

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It spends most of its time foraging through that weed in the dense,

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dense bladderwrack and kelp.

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Little bit of a breather. Again, you never get to see their feet

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when they're on the water surface like this,

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but you can just see, she's so at home, perfectly relaxed.

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What a great view.

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Now, Simon King is clearly a confirmed otterholic.

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But there's one other cameraman who's always trying to get

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even closer than Simon.

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That is my good friend, Charlie Hamilton James.

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I saw my first otter when I was 16,

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and I'd gone to Shetland just to see otters.

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Luckily, I've had lots of cups of tea,

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so I'll be able to keep myself warm.

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I think that's too cold down there.

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The otters won't hang around long,

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so I need to get on with the serious business of being

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one of the only people ever to have swum with a truly wild otter.

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Usually they're incredibly wary.

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The slightest smell of a human and they're gone.

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But in the water, my scent is hidden,

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and whilst they know I'm here, they don't know what I am.

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I can see an otter working the shore,

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and I'm swimming gently towards it.

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And then suddenly, it appears.

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My first shot of an otter underwater.

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It's incredible how close I'm getting,

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and although inquisitive, it's still carrying on hunting and fishing.

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As it swims through the water,

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I can see for the first time how otters use their whole bodies

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to propel themselves along, not just their tails and feet.

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It's quite simply breathtaking to watch,

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and I feel it can't get any better. But it does.

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This bold and brazen dog otter is swimming up to investigate,

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coming so close he touches my camera.

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It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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GARBLES EXCITEDLY

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That is, without a doubt,

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the best wildlife encounter I have ever had in my life, by a mile.

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It is unbelievable.

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Now, like Charlie and Simon, I've spent some time in Shetland.

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DRAMATIC MUSIC

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And it's not always sunny and serene.

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The thing is, though,

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no self-respecting mother otter

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-is going to take her cubs out in that!

-HE LAUGHS

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It takes a lot to stop an otter.

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This mother and her cub are out fishing.

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Even in gale force winds, they have to eat every day.

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If they don't, they'll starve.

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And surviving in these chilly North Sea waters

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requires some high-performance equipment.

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The otter's fur is short, fine, dense and velvety,

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and it's also extremely good at doing two essential things -

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keeping it dry and keeping it warm.

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Let's take a closer look at the fur using this microscope.

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I'll just focus it.

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You can see that the coarse hairs there are what we call

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the guard hairs. They're about 20 millimetres long, and they're covered

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with a water-repellent oil, and it's these that keep the otter dry.

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But if I part them

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and we delve underneath into the under-fur,

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these hairs are shorter, between 10 and 15 millimetres,

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and they occur at an incredible density -

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60,000 hairs per square centimetre

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all over this otter's body,

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and they are really good at keeping it warm,

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because they trap a layer of air here

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at a temperature ten degrees higher than the surrounding air or water.

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And when it comes to staying warm in water, you've got to try hard,

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because we lose temperature 27 times quicker through water

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than we do through air.

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Now, if you've got a coat like that, you certainly need to look after it.

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And one thing you'll notice is otters spend a lot of time grooming,

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particularly if they've been into saltwater,

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because the salt leads to the breakdown of that oil

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which is keeping the animal dry.

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So they'll come onto land, actively look for freshwater to bath in,

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and then spend a lot of time grooming, often in traditional spots.

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At the end of the day, if you've got a coat like this,

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you want to keep it in tiptop condition

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so you're nice and dry and warm.

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-HE SHIVERS

-I could do with a bit of extra under-fur myself, it's bitter.

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Now, we've seen otters frolicking about

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in broad daylight on the coast.

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I don't know about you, but when I think about where an otter lives,

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I tend to think about something like this - a river, freshwater.

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In southern Britain, otters live not just on rivers,

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but in lakes and marshes too - anywhere, in fact,

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where there's water and plenty of bushes for cover.

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Here it's much harder to follow their lives,

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because on a river, otters come out at night.

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There's no twice-daily tide bringing food,

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but with dusk, the river comes alive.

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Away from prying eyes, fish like bullheads and eels emerge.

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And under the cover of darkness, otters come out to hunt them.

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As the otters emerge, so does Charlie,

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hoping to share their lives.

0:22:010:22:04

He's spent more time than anyone filming their movements at night.

0:22:090:22:13

Tonight he's using a thermal imaging camera,

0:22:180:22:21

which works by detecting heat,

0:22:210:22:24

and shows up any warm-blooded creature on the river.

0:22:240:22:27

I've got the ducks on it. They're coming down the river,

0:22:280:22:33

and the ducks... are right up against the edge.

0:22:330:22:38

Ah, it's really hard to see it. There's the otter.

0:22:410:22:44

I've got the otter, it's right near the ducks. They can't see it.

0:22:440:22:50

I can only just see the ducks.

0:22:500:22:52

Yeah, he's right next to the ducks.

0:22:520:22:55

There goes the ducks. Oh...

0:22:550:22:58

HE CHUCKLES

0:22:580:23:01

There's something very special about seeing an otter at night like this.

0:23:050:23:10

And I guess it's because you're seeing something

0:23:100:23:13

that you shouldn't really be seeing.

0:23:130:23:16

From all the hours he's spent watching them at night,

0:23:220:23:25

Charlie's noticed the otters are constantly alert.

0:23:250:23:29

They're hyper-sensitive

0:23:290:23:30

to everything that's going on around them.

0:23:300:23:33

OTTER SQUEAKS

0:23:350:23:37

The family cruise the river like a well-oiled hunting machine,

0:23:400:23:45

diving after fish,

0:23:450:23:47

rooting around rocks to dislodge crabs and crayfish.

0:23:470:23:51

Now and again they rest up in special places - their holts -

0:24:030:24:08

hidden behind bushes or perhaps beneath a tangle of tree roots.

0:24:080:24:12

This pattern of resting and hunting, resting and hunting,

0:24:120:24:15

is how they pass the night.

0:24:150:24:19

But I wonder if you, like me,

0:24:230:24:26

have ever wondered how on earth otters find food

0:24:260:24:30

in this murky, pitch-black water?

0:24:300:24:33

One of the ways the otter is going to be finding its food

0:24:330:24:36

is by using its whiskers -

0:24:360:24:39

these highly modified hairs we call virissae.

0:24:390:24:43

And they are extraordinarily sensitive.

0:24:430:24:46

Well, not the hair itself - that's dead -

0:24:460:24:48

but it's the tissue into which it's rooted that is absolutely packed

0:24:480:24:53

full of neurons, nervous tissue, and this transmits the information

0:24:530:24:58

to the animal's brain, and in otters,

0:24:580:25:00

that part of the brain is significantly larger

0:25:000:25:03

than in other species that are not so reliant on their whiskers.

0:25:030:25:08

But, you know, it's not that the whiskers actually have to touch

0:25:080:25:11

their prey, or anything they're looking for,

0:25:110:25:15

because they are sufficiently sensitive

0:25:150:25:17

to be able to detect the vortices.

0:25:170:25:19

Now, that the churned up water that fish have left behind them

0:25:190:25:22

when they're swimming through the river.

0:25:220:25:25

And what's even more astonishing is that these animals

0:25:250:25:29

can actually detect which species of fish has been swimming there,

0:25:290:25:33

even when the fish is long gone.

0:25:330:25:36

That's remarkable.

0:25:360:25:38

That's an astonishing bit of biology,

0:25:410:25:43

but when it comes to hunting,

0:25:430:25:45

it seems that otters may have an even cleverer trick up their sleeve.

0:25:450:25:49

Now, after hours and hours of patient observation,

0:25:490:25:53

Charlie Hamilton James thinks he's discovered something

0:25:530:25:56

completely unexpected.

0:25:560:25:58

So, Charlie, I'm imagining I'm an otter,

0:26:010:26:03

I'm swimming around at night, in possibly murky water,

0:26:030:26:07

that's a tall order.

0:26:070:26:09

Now, apart from using... sensing movement of fish,

0:26:090:26:13

what other senses could I use to hunt?

0:26:130:26:16

I've got this theory that otters also use smell underwater.

0:26:160:26:20

Yeah, but they are mammals like us, so we have to go...

0:26:200:26:23

-HE SNIFFS

-..and they're holding their breath.

0:26:230:26:27

So how on earth can an otter smell underwater?

0:26:270:26:29

Well, otters, they're supposed to have their nostrils

0:26:290:26:32

completely closed underwater,

0:26:320:26:35

but I used to feed the otter in my garden,

0:26:350:26:37

because I was rehabilitating one to release him,

0:26:370:26:40

and I used to put her fish in the river,

0:26:400:26:43

so that the rats didn't get it.

0:26:430:26:45

And she could find it. Wherever I put it, she could always find it.

0:26:460:26:49

So I was always thinking, "How can she find it?"

0:26:490:26:52

-It's not moving at all.

-No, so the whiskers thing,

0:26:520:26:55

that's not doing anything.

0:26:550:26:56

It's dark, and the river's all murky, so she can't see it,

0:26:560:26:59

so it's got to be something else going on.

0:26:590:27:01

-OK.

-So, I thought, "Well, I'd better try and film it."

0:27:010:27:05

I invented some kit. It's an underwater camera.

0:27:050:27:08

And I also put a nappy in it, because it leaked.

0:27:080:27:11

THEY LAUGH

0:27:110:27:12

And then I put it in the river,

0:27:120:27:14

and I put a couple of infrared lights on it

0:27:140:27:17

to light it up. So it's still pitch dark.

0:27:170:27:20

I tied a dead fish to a brick,

0:27:200:27:22

I stuck it in the murky river at night,

0:27:220:27:24

and it found it straightaway.

0:27:240:27:27

-How? Can we see it?

-Yeah, have a look.

0:27:270:27:29

-Here's the dead fish?

-Yeah.

0:27:310:27:33

And it's very quick, look, the otter comes in, picks it up, it's gone.

0:27:330:27:37

Now, how does that tell us that it's smelling the fish?

0:27:370:27:41

Right, well, at first, I didn't know anything else was going on,

0:27:410:27:45

other than it had found it.

0:27:450:27:46

So I had to go back, and look at this thing

0:27:460:27:48

and look at this thing, and try and work out what was going on,

0:27:480:27:51

and this is what I noticed. If you play it back really slowly...

0:27:510:27:56

There. There's a little bubble.

0:27:560:27:57

I thought that was just its nostril, but just that little flash there...?

0:27:570:28:01

A little flash, it's putting a bubble out,

0:28:010:28:03

and it's sniffing that bubble back in.

0:28:030:28:05

And that's going to get loaded with scent and the chemicals of the fish.

0:28:050:28:11

And then once it's worked out what it is, pick it up, swim off with it.

0:28:110:28:15

It actually exudes a bubble of air,

0:28:150:28:18

that somehow captures the scent, and it sucks it back into its nose.

0:28:180:28:22

-Absolutely.

-Did you just come up with that?

0:28:220:28:25

Is that just the Charlie theory from nowhere?

0:28:250:28:28

No, it's not. You know, I knew something was going on

0:28:280:28:31

because I knew they could find them, and then I'd seen a BBC documentary,

0:28:310:28:34

and in it they featured star-nosed moles -

0:28:340:28:38

these very cool critters that hunt underwater.

0:28:380:28:42

And what they'd done is they'd basically filmed them

0:28:420:28:45

in very slow motion and proved that they are smelling

0:28:450:28:48

by putting out bubbles and sniffing them back in again.

0:28:480:28:50

-The scent is in the water?

-Yeah.

0:28:500:28:53

But I put cameras above the water.

0:28:530:28:56

I wanted to look down on, to see exactly what was happening,

0:28:560:28:58

so not just underwater. And you can see, she comes up the river,

0:28:580:29:02

and she goes past the fish,

0:29:020:29:04

and then she suddenly makes a very sharp turn, and grabs it.

0:29:040:29:07

-So she clocked it.

-Somehow she's detected it.

0:29:070:29:10

And a bit like the wind, the river's going in one direction,

0:29:100:29:14

so any scent's coming down the river, and when she went past it,

0:29:140:29:17

she obviously clocked it, and came back round and grabbed it.

0:29:170:29:19

So whatever it is, she clearly can do it. She is picking up that scent.

0:29:190:29:24

And it looks like she's using the Charlie bubble scenting theory.

0:29:240:29:28

I think that's probably what they'll call it from now on!

0:29:280:29:31

Science in action, folks.

0:29:310:29:33

Now we know otters are supreme swimmers,

0:29:350:29:38

they have a highly sophisticated sense of both touch and smell,

0:29:380:29:43

all of which combines to make them very, very good at catching fish.

0:29:430:29:48

And that skill would inevitably bring them

0:29:480:29:51

into conflict with humans.

0:29:510:29:54

For hundreds of years, in Britain, otters have been hunted.

0:29:540:29:59

Organised hunting of otters was going on

0:30:030:30:06

way back in the 12th century, partially to control their numbers.

0:30:060:30:11

But by the 20th century, otters were being hunted purely for sport.

0:30:110:30:16

Someone who used to hunt them was James Williams,

0:30:180:30:21

now one of the foremost otter experts in the country.

0:30:210:30:24

What was the structure of the hunt?

0:30:260:30:28

Well, I've got a picture here of my father,

0:30:280:30:31

who was the master of the hunt.

0:30:310:30:33

And there he is with some of the officials and the hounds...

0:30:330:30:36

-Great photo.

-..and he organised where the hunt would go

0:30:360:30:40

and then they would meet at 10 o'clock or 10.30

0:30:400:30:44

at a bridge or a house and set off to try and find an otter

0:30:440:30:48

and see if they could have a hunt.

0:30:480:30:50

I've got to say, you've got the most wonderful collection of dogs in this, haven't you?

0:30:500:30:55

-They're purebred otter hounds.

-Oh, are they?

0:30:550:30:57

-These are purebred otter hounds?

-Yes, purebred otter hounds.

0:30:570:30:59

Here's some more and you can see there

0:30:590:31:02

what fine, upstanding animals they are.

0:31:020:31:04

They're wonderful, wonderful hounds and I love them.

0:31:040:31:07

-And everyone's on foot. Am I right? It's all...

-Yes.

0:31:070:31:11

-No horses or anything like that.

-No, no horses. All on foot.

-All on foot.

0:31:110:31:14

And long poles which people sometimes say they were spears, they're not,

0:31:140:31:18

they're just walking sticks because you've got to cross the river.

0:31:180:31:21

Now, with a fox hunt, the fox will be in a bush or a...

0:31:210:31:24

But an otter's going to be a much harder quarry, I would think,

0:31:240:31:28

to find in the first place.

0:31:280:31:29

Because there are far fewer of them,

0:31:290:31:31

the first thing you have to do is find where the actual otter

0:31:310:31:35

has gone in the night and follow its scent, which we call the drag,

0:31:350:31:39

and hope that eventually you would locate the otter.

0:31:390:31:41

How many separate otter hunts would there have been

0:31:410:31:44

up and down the country?

0:31:440:31:47

About two dozen. Most places were in the territory of an otter hunt.

0:31:470:31:50

What sort of effect did the hunting back in those days

0:31:500:31:54

have on otter numbers overall?

0:31:540:31:56

Very little effect.

0:31:560:31:57

We know that otter hunting was going in the reign of King John

0:31:570:32:01

and otters survived perfectly well.

0:32:010:32:04

I think the hunts were fairly beneficial

0:32:040:32:06

in that they stopped people trapping, because it was much more fun

0:32:060:32:09

to see if you could have a hunt and a day with your friends

0:32:090:32:11

than to set a trap and go in the morning and find a mangled corpse,

0:32:110:32:14

so I think the hunt, in fact, had a slightly protective effect.

0:32:140:32:19

But for all that, between the 1950s and the 1970s,

0:32:220:32:27

there was a sudden and dramatic decline in otters.

0:32:270:32:31

The hunts were the first to notice there was a problem

0:32:320:32:35

and they immediately sounded the alarm.

0:32:350:32:38

But the numbers of otters continued to fall,

0:32:380:32:41

and in 1978, otter hunting was made illegal.

0:32:410:32:44

Something was devastating the population

0:32:470:32:51

and, finally, after lengthy investigation,

0:32:510:32:54

the cause was discovered.

0:32:540:32:56

Toxic chemicals, introduced in the 1950s,

0:33:000:33:03

were being used by farmers to kill pests

0:33:030:33:06

and prevent fungal infestations.

0:33:060:33:09

The poisons were washing into waterways

0:33:090:33:11

and building up through the food chain.

0:33:110:33:14

Otters are a top predator in our rivers

0:33:170:33:20

so the toxins accumulated in their bodies to dangerous levels,

0:33:200:33:24

causing blindness and fertility problems.

0:33:240:33:27

By the early 1980s, otter numbers had crashed

0:33:300:33:33

by up to 90% in England -

0:33:330:33:36

they were on the brink of extinction.

0:33:360:33:38

But a fictional tale about the life of an otter in North Devon,

0:33:400:33:44

written at the peak of the hunting period,

0:33:440:33:47

had begun to change people's attitudes.

0:33:470:33:50

It was Henry Williamson's Tarka The Otter.

0:33:500:33:54

Oh, this is Tarka when a child.

0:33:550:33:57

"The eldest and biggest of the litter was a dog cub

0:33:570:34:00

"and when he drew his first breath he was less than five inches long

0:34:000:34:04

"from his nose to where his wee tail joined his backbone."

0:34:040:34:08

That's a bit twee, isn't it?

0:34:080:34:09

"His fur was soft and grey as the buds of the willow

0:34:090:34:12

"before they opened Easter tide."

0:34:120:34:14

That's all right.

0:34:140:34:15

"He was called Tarka, which was a name given to otters..."

0:34:150:34:19

"..many years ago by men dwelling in hut circles on the moor.

0:34:190:34:23

"It means "little wanderer" or "wandering as water"."

0:34:230:34:27

Now, I read Tarka as a child

0:34:280:34:30

and it's a mixture of poetry and raw, almost brutal, reality.

0:34:300:34:36

And Williamson was a realist.

0:34:360:34:38

He even joined to his local otter hunt to make sure

0:34:380:34:41

the book was as accurate as it possibly could be.

0:34:410:34:45

But when he wrote Tarka The Otter 85 years ago,

0:34:450:34:48

otters were still plentiful.

0:34:480:34:50

The great crash in their numbers hadn't actually started.

0:34:500:34:54

So this isn't really a book about otter conservation,

0:34:540:34:58

but it did start to change the way that we think about otters.

0:34:580:35:01

And that change continued with the publication of this book,

0:35:010:35:05

Ring Of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell, in 1960.

0:35:050:35:10

And this book, and the film of the book,

0:35:100:35:12

cemented a change that was already happening,

0:35:120:35:15

turning the otter from vermin into a treasured part of British wildlife.

0:35:150:35:21

Otters had had a make-over.

0:35:240:35:27

Now they were playful and friendly

0:35:270:35:29

and there was an outpouring of support for them.

0:35:290:35:32

Otter conservation hit the political agenda

0:35:330:35:36

and they finally became legally protected

0:35:360:35:38

in England and Wales in 1978

0:35:380:35:41

and just a few years later in Scotland.

0:35:410:35:43

Where are you? Come on.

0:35:490:35:52

Meanwhile, new conservation groups had sprung up

0:35:520:35:55

and one of these was the Otter Trust,

0:35:550:35:58

set up in 1972 by Philip and Jeanne Wayre.

0:35:580:36:02

They were so passionate about otters they bought a farm in Suffolk

0:36:030:36:07

and created large breeding enclosures by a lake.

0:36:070:36:10

Rescued otters were taken in and bred in captivity

0:36:120:36:15

and in 1983 the first three otters - two females and a male -

0:36:150:36:19

were released into a river in Suffolk,

0:36:190:36:21

where it was hoped they would start a wild population.

0:36:210:36:24

So the otters took a massive hit,

0:36:280:36:31

but then the chemical pollutants were banned.

0:36:310:36:34

The otters got legal protection

0:36:340:36:36

and a lucky few even got a helping hand directly.

0:36:360:36:39

We had paved the way for their recovery - now it was up to them.

0:36:410:36:45

Good news for the otter's recovery

0:36:490:36:51

is that it can breed at any time of year

0:36:510:36:53

and produce a litter of two or occasionally three cubs.

0:36:530:36:56

The den might be an old rabbit burrow

0:36:590:37:01

or a hole in a tangle of tree roots.

0:37:010:37:04

It just needs to be snug and secluded.

0:37:040:37:06

OTTERS SQUEAK

0:37:080:37:10

The cubs grow quite fast,

0:37:100:37:12

playing and sparring with each other to build up their strength.

0:37:120:37:16

It's not until they're about four months old

0:37:220:37:24

that they first venture, tentatively, out into the water.

0:37:240:37:27

The family call to each other with piercing whistles

0:37:290:37:33

to stick close together in the dark.

0:37:330:37:35

OTTERS WHISTLE

0:37:390:37:41

Mum teaches them how to hunt underwater

0:37:410:37:44

and over the next eight months

0:37:440:37:46

they'll learn all the skills they need to become fully independent.

0:37:460:37:51

So if you ever see a group of otters together like this,

0:37:550:37:58

it's invariably a mother and her cubs -

0:37:580:38:01

the male dog otter doesn't stick around.

0:38:010:38:04

Whether on a river or by the coast, dog otters are loners.

0:38:070:38:12

As soon as they're fully grown they move away from home

0:38:120:38:16

to find territories of their own.

0:38:160:38:18

And this they guard aggressively against anyone.

0:38:180:38:22

One of the ways they define their territory

0:38:270:38:30

is by marking its boundaries with scent.

0:38:300:38:32

Otter spraint - their poo - is a language all of its own.

0:38:340:38:39

Left on rocks or sandy mounds, it's a warning to keep out,

0:38:390:38:42

a message that Simon has clearly failed to heed.

0:38:420:38:46

And here it is, on all of the little high points.

0:38:460:38:49

This rock, a great mass of spraint here, here.

0:38:490:38:53

Behind me, here.

0:38:530:38:54

And if you get a close look

0:38:540:38:56

and there are still the odd bubble on, then just keep still

0:38:560:39:00

cos the chances are the otter's only just been here

0:39:000:39:03

and it's somewhere nearby.

0:39:030:39:05

Spraint is actually a complex method of communication,

0:39:080:39:12

and just how complex has only recently become clear.

0:39:120:39:15

Oh, yeah. Look at that.

0:39:200:39:22

You can clearly see the reflective qualities there

0:39:220:39:26

of a lot of fish scales.

0:39:260:39:29

But, of course, to the otters,

0:39:290:39:31

this material has another very clear function

0:39:310:39:35

and it's all about communicating through smell

0:39:350:39:39

and I've got some fresher samples that have been collected here

0:39:390:39:43

that haven't dried out and I'm going to give them a bit of a sniff test.

0:39:430:39:47

Now, some people say that it smells like freshly mown hay,

0:39:470:39:51

some, jasmine tea, but to me,

0:39:510:39:55

that's just pure otter.

0:39:550:39:58

The smell is made up of 100 different components,

0:39:580:40:03

but 17 of those are used by the otters

0:40:030:40:06

to identify the spraint to an individual level.

0:40:060:40:09

So if an otter was to sniff this itself

0:40:090:40:12

it could tell you whether that was male or female,

0:40:120:40:15

five, six, seven, eight years old,

0:40:150:40:18

whether it was sexually mature, whether it was sexually active.

0:40:180:40:22

It's Brian and he's had a fish masala, without any doubt.

0:40:220:40:26

Now we can take DNA from this spraint

0:40:260:40:30

and identify the otters down to individual level.

0:40:300:40:34

So, you see, far from being a nuisance and something a bit quirky,

0:40:340:40:39

otter spraint is incredibly useful both to man and beast.

0:40:390:40:42

Over the past few decades, signs such as spraint and paw prints

0:40:450:40:50

have been used to try to chart the otter's comeback in England,

0:40:500:40:54

and although overall this shows encouraging signs of recovery,

0:40:540:40:58

it's difficult to know exactly how many otters there are now in the UK.

0:40:580:41:03

Trying to identify individual otters using their tracks

0:41:040:41:08

and their spraint is notoriously difficult, but in the future

0:41:080:41:12

this new DNA technique should make it much, much easier

0:41:120:41:16

and help us build a more reliable picture of overall otter numbers.

0:41:160:41:21

Research so far suggests otters are steadily recovering,

0:41:240:41:28

with numbers estimated at somewhere around 2,000 in England

0:41:280:41:32

and perhaps 8,000 in Scotland and Wales.

0:41:320:41:35

In Scotland, where hunting's now been banned for 30 years,

0:41:450:41:49

Simon recently found signs that otters are getting bolder.

0:41:490:41:53

This is an otter trap, or, as they are known locally,

0:41:550:41:59

an otter "hoose", built to trap otters for their fur.

0:41:590:42:04

This would have been the area that the otter was attracted to going in

0:42:060:42:10

and here there would have been a wooden sliding trapdoor

0:42:100:42:16

connected to a string that went inside the structure

0:42:160:42:19

to a pressure pad and if the otter walked inside,

0:42:190:42:23

touched the rock, the door would close behind it.

0:42:230:42:27

And then when the otter hunter came by on his rounds

0:42:270:42:30

he'd lift one of the big rocks at the top, kill the otter, take it out.

0:42:300:42:34

Now, of course, otters are fully protected

0:42:340:42:37

and what is so fantastic and ironic is that this otter trap at least

0:42:370:42:42

is being used very, very regularly by the local otter, or otters,

0:42:420:42:46

as a resting place, and their sign is everywhere.

0:42:460:42:49

There's a spraint here which is no more than an hour old

0:42:510:42:55

and I can see where the animal has collected bedding

0:42:550:42:59

and made a lovely, warm, cosy nest just inside.

0:42:590:43:04

How strange that a structure designed to kill otters

0:43:040:43:07

should prove to be a des-res.

0:43:070:43:09

As they slowly spread across the UK,

0:43:130:43:16

otters are finding new friends to help them on their way.

0:43:160:43:19

On a rain-soaked day last year

0:43:200:43:22

I went to help some volunteers, led by inventor Chris Matcher,

0:43:220:43:27

making specially constructed otter holts.

0:43:270:43:29

'I've put up plenty of bird boxes but an otter prefab?

0:43:340:43:37

'Like any flatpack, well, you know how it goes.'

0:43:390:43:42

-D?

-D. Where's D?

-Which way round does it go?

0:43:420:43:46

-It should be the other way around.

-That should be that way round.

0:43:460:43:49

B. That's B.

0:43:490:43:52

(It never goes smoothly.)

0:43:520:43:53

'But, seriously, when you're not filming,

0:43:530:43:55

'this holt can be put together in under an hour.'

0:43:550:43:58

Girls with power drills - very exciting!

0:43:590:44:02

Done. Chris, thank you for a marvellous day out.

0:44:070:44:11

-Look what we've created.

-Thank you very much.

0:44:110:44:13

I shall volunteer for more of this sort of work(!)

0:44:130:44:16

Let's get out of this!

0:44:180:44:21

Excellent! And helping otters isn't just about building nest boxes -

0:44:230:44:27

sometimes it means playing surrogate mum.

0:44:270:44:30

When these three orphaned cubs were found by a roadside,

0:44:330:44:37

a local wildlife sanctuary took them in.

0:44:370:44:40

The cubs had never been in water

0:44:400:44:42

so when the time was right, a swimming lesson was arranged.

0:44:420:44:45

Over the next 18 months,

0:44:490:44:51

the cubs were taught to hunt and fend for themselves

0:44:510:44:54

and eventually they were put back into the river

0:44:540:44:57

very close to where they were found.

0:44:570:44:59

The one thing that has helped the otter's recovery

0:45:060:45:09

more than anything else is the clean-up of our rivers.

0:45:090:45:12

And although pollution is still a problem,

0:45:140:45:16

many rivers have improved dramatically.

0:45:160:45:19

Otters are a litmus, a test, for the health of a river

0:45:210:45:25

and their presence shows that now many of our rivers

0:45:250:45:29

are the healthiest they've been for 20 years.

0:45:290:45:32

And that's good news,

0:45:350:45:37

not only for otters, but for all our river life.

0:45:370:45:40

It's not just our cameras catching glimpses of otters -

0:45:460:45:49

here are some of your photos from around the country,

0:45:490:45:53

courtesy of our Flickr photo group.

0:45:530:45:56

No longer restricted to coast and countryside,

0:46:000:46:03

some 21st-century otters are living right among us.

0:46:030:46:06

In the cathedral city of Winchester,

0:46:090:46:11

CCTV captured these remarkable images.

0:46:110:46:15

A mother and no fewer than three cubs

0:46:180:46:21

playing quite happily directly underneath the city's mill.

0:46:210:46:24

The Wildlife Trust now estimate that otters are established

0:46:260:46:29

in at least 13 urban centres.

0:46:290:46:32

In Manchester, evidence of otter activity

0:46:320:46:35

was recorded for the first time since the early 1900s.

0:46:350:46:38

And in Newcastle, Simon was thrilled by the sight of an otter

0:46:400:46:44

in the heart of the city.

0:46:440:46:46

That's the trail of bubbles that every otter watcher wants to see.

0:46:490:46:54

I find it truly wonderful

0:46:540:46:56

to think that as we drive over these bridges in city centres,

0:46:560:47:01

scenes like these might well be playing out

0:47:010:47:05

under our wheels all over the country.

0:47:050:47:08

And this is testament to an enormous turnaround

0:47:110:47:16

in the way we treat our waterways.

0:47:160:47:18

The fact that otters and herons can find sufficient food

0:47:180:47:22

in these urban rivers and pools is a clear sign

0:47:220:47:28

that these freshwaters live up to their name - just that, fresh...

0:47:280:47:32

..and life-giving.

0:47:340:47:36

Now, otters are naturally long-distance travellers

0:47:380:47:42

and that's what's bringing them into our cities.

0:47:420:47:45

But not everyone is quite so pleased to see them in the suburbs.

0:47:450:47:49

Some garden ponds have been receiving

0:47:490:47:52

some very unwelcome visitors.

0:47:520:47:54

Imagine a small pond with a big, sluggish koi carp in it.

0:47:580:48:04

To an opportunist like an otter, it's irresistible.

0:48:040:48:08

It's not just ornamental fish ponds that are getting hit.

0:48:200:48:23

Up and down the country,

0:48:230:48:25

otters are becoming a real headache for commercial fisheries too

0:48:250:48:29

and I'm off to Somerset to find out exactly what's going on.

0:48:290:48:32

This lake is owned by an angling club in Bridgwater

0:48:380:48:41

and today its vice president, Danny Danahy,

0:48:410:48:44

is having to restock it with carp.

0:48:440:48:47

Now, Danny,

0:48:480:48:50

I can't help noticing the whole of the lake is like Colditz.

0:48:500:48:55

You've had to go to some really extreme lengths to protect this.

0:48:550:48:58

-Yes.

-What has happened?

0:48:580:49:00

-Over the last four years, we've put in approximately 4,000 fish.

-Right.

0:49:000:49:07

Last Thursday, we had about 50.

0:49:070:49:10

Mainly roach, small bream.

0:49:100:49:13

The 1,500 carp we put in more or less gone.

0:49:130:49:18

That must have been crushingly disappointing for you.

0:49:180:49:21

Terribly. Terribly. It's costing us an awful lot of money.

0:49:210:49:25

The fence, we've put the fence up to try and stop

0:49:250:49:28

what we believe is the otter doing it.

0:49:280:49:31

'There are a variety of different animals it might be,

0:49:330:49:36

'not just otters.

0:49:360:49:38

'Mink will go for roach and bream,

0:49:380:49:40

'and with a slump in fish stocks out at sea,

0:49:400:49:43

'more and more cormorants are coming inland to hunt.'

0:49:430:49:46

What's led you to think that it is the otter in general?

0:49:460:49:51

Fishermen are actually seeing them on the big lake over there.

0:49:510:49:54

We've also found paw prints, spats, dead fish.

0:49:540:49:59

-Dead fish, yeah.

-Dead fish.

0:49:590:50:02

From the photos of fish carcasses taken by the club,

0:50:020:50:05

it does look like otter.

0:50:050:50:07

They'll go for carp because they're slow and easy to catch

0:50:070:50:10

and they typically pick out the muscle just behind the gills,

0:50:100:50:14

leaving the rest of the fish untouched.

0:50:140:50:16

We believe that they're coming from the river,

0:50:180:50:20

-which is in that direction.

-Ah.

-OK?

0:50:200:50:22

And we believe that they're using that as a superhighway

0:50:220:50:25

to come off onto lakes like ours.

0:50:250:50:27

And they're opportunistically looking for feeding stations

0:50:270:50:30

and they've found your fisheries here.

0:50:300:50:32

Found our fishery and helped themselves.

0:50:320:50:34

As otters are legally protected, Danny's had to invest

0:50:350:50:39

in putting up some sort of barrier to keep them out.

0:50:390:50:42

And you had to sink that into the ground?

0:50:430:50:45

That's gone into the ground, about 18 inches into the ground.

0:50:450:50:48

-It's not a cheap option.

-No, no. Very, very expensive.

0:50:480:50:52

For a lot of people, it could be the difference between being in business

0:50:520:50:56

-or going out of business, you know?

-Yeah.

0:50:560:50:58

And stock is the most important thing.

0:50:580:51:01

Hmm, that's tricky.

0:51:040:51:06

And the growth in commercial fisheries and fish farms

0:51:060:51:08

happened when there were hardly any otters around.

0:51:080:51:11

And now the otters are making a comeback...

0:51:110:51:14

Well, for an otter, this must be like finding

0:51:140:51:16

a free all-you-can-eat buffet.

0:51:160:51:19

I suppose the only option is to think very seriously about fencing.

0:51:190:51:23

All these sightings of otters could give the impression

0:51:260:51:29

that their comeback is complete,

0:51:290:51:32

but, in fact, whilst it looks like they've recovered their range,

0:51:320:51:35

they definitely haven't recovered their numbers.

0:51:350:51:38

But they ARE coming back.

0:51:410:51:44

And that means we've all got a better chance

0:51:440:51:46

of seeing one for ourselves.

0:51:460:51:48

So how do we go about it? Well, I know just the man.

0:51:490:51:53

OK, Charlie, I've got maybe ten minutes.

0:51:540:51:57

I am desperate to see an otter. How do I see one?

0:51:570:52:00

Well, you're probably not going to see one, to be honest,

0:52:000:52:03

but there's a whole selection of signs that you can look for

0:52:030:52:07

to tell you if there is an otter there, at least.

0:52:070:52:09

So we have to turn otter detective.

0:52:090:52:12

I know the basics of what we're after -

0:52:170:52:19

paw prints, holts in the banks

0:52:190:52:21

and the heady smell of jasmine tea from their spraint -

0:52:210:52:25

but I'm hoping Charlie can fill me in with some fieldcraft tips.

0:52:250:52:30

I've got the right man - he's scaring me to death

0:52:300:52:32

with gruesome tales of their leftovers.

0:52:320:52:36

If an otter eats a trout, it'll hold it like that on the body

0:52:360:52:40

and start with the head.

0:52:400:52:42

You know what I mean? Till it's gone.

0:52:420:52:45

You'll find the crayfish, it'll be the head and the claws they'll leave.

0:52:450:52:48

If you find the back of a crab, often they'll have a single hole in it.

0:52:480:52:52

You know, the canine of the otter has gone through it.

0:52:520:52:55

Rat tails, so they've eaten the whole of the rest of the rat

0:52:550:52:57

and they've just left the tail.

0:52:570:52:59

'OK, Charlie, enough. Show me some hard evidence now!'

0:52:590:53:04

What's the very first thing in your top ten otter signs?

0:53:040:53:06

-What are we looking for?

-This, basically, look.

0:53:060:53:09

All these little dotty things?

0:53:090:53:10

Look, there you go. All the way, straightaway.

0:53:100:53:12

Any nice wet bit of mud along the edge of the river,

0:53:120:53:15

if it's got otters, it's generally going to have footprints.

0:53:150:53:18

That could be a dog to the untutored eye.

0:53:180:53:20

What are we looking for that makes it otter?

0:53:200:53:22

Well, key thing is, it's got five toes, an otter,

0:53:220:53:24

and dogs and foxes have got four. But they're so distinctive.

0:53:240:53:28

Look, you can see these teardrop paw marks,

0:53:280:53:31

like upside-down teardrops, straightaway.

0:53:310:53:33

They are sharp at the end, like that.

0:53:330:53:35

What sort of size?

0:53:350:53:38

-Look at that!

-All right, let's measure one.

0:53:380:53:40

I always have a little measurer.

0:53:400:53:42

You're looking at about five centimetres.

0:53:420:53:44

-I would have said that's sub adult, teenager, maybe.

-Teenage otter?

0:53:440:53:48

-Early teens.

-Early teens otter?

-Yeah, you know that it'll have Mum with it.

0:53:480:53:51

So if there's a mum and a cub,

0:53:510:53:54

at somewhere on this river will be a dog otter,

0:53:540:53:57

cos he'll have a huge territory,

0:53:570:53:59

encompassing several different females.

0:53:590:54:02

So you know just from seeing these small prints

0:54:020:54:04

there are probably three otters here,

0:54:040:54:06

-even though we are only seeing the prints of one.

-Amazing.

0:54:060:54:08

Now, Charlie, this is interesting.

0:54:150:54:17

It looks like a sort of a trail here going up there. Could that be otter?

0:54:170:54:22

Absolutely. Otters cut corners all the time,

0:54:220:54:24

and they cut corners when they are going upriver.

0:54:240:54:26

They don't need to cut corners when going down river

0:54:260:54:28

because they've got the energy of the river

0:54:280:54:30

so they're not expending any energy, but when they're coming upriver,

0:54:300:54:33

it's much easier to get out and cut a corner off.

0:54:330:54:36

Now, obviously, otters are fishing a lot of the time,

0:54:360:54:39

but sometimes they're not, they're just on a mission.

0:54:390:54:41

And you're trying to film them,

0:54:410:54:42

trying to keep up with them and they're just...

0:54:420:54:44

for two or three miles, some of them, and you think, "Where are you going?

0:54:440:54:49

"Are you late for the cinema? Is the fishmonger shutting?"

0:54:490:54:52

I don't really get it, but this is when they're cutting corners.

0:54:520:54:55

Otters on a mission. He knows what he's on about.

0:54:550:54:58

OK.

0:54:580:55:01

O0h, it's a bit deep there, Martin. You have to go tiptoes.

0:55:010:55:05

-That is the classic otter hole.

-That is an otter hole.

0:55:050:55:09

Yeah, it's a hole in the root system of an ash tree,

0:55:090:55:12

which the otters love to dig up into.

0:55:120:55:14

So where's the entrance? Is the entrance that bit there where it's sort of a bit muddy?

0:55:140:55:18

Yeah, and you can just see the hole in there.

0:55:180:55:20

There's not just one here either.

0:55:200:55:22

So there's another one 200 metres down there...

0:55:220:55:24

-Right.

-..under a hazel tree. And all the way up the river,

0:55:240:55:27

every few hundred metres, there's another one.

0:55:270:55:29

That's a classic rock -

0:55:320:55:33

the otter is going to come up, he can go out and poo on there.

0:55:330:55:37

Oh, look at that. Hey-hey!

0:55:390:55:41

-Ooh.

-Isn't it lovely?

-Look at that!

0:55:410:55:45

Now, most otter scientists and enthusiasts,

0:55:450:55:47

they like to pick it up and move it around in their hands.

0:55:470:55:50

Not me. I use a stick.

0:55:500:55:54

Are you listening, Chris Packham?

0:55:540:55:56

-OK, so you can see they've been eating crayfish here.

-Look at that.

0:55:560:56:01

The big bits of shell, and that's why it's red.

0:56:010:56:04

Well, here's the crayfish, but this is very different.

0:56:040:56:06

It's green, for a start.

0:56:060:56:07

It's very fresh and it's green.

0:56:070:56:09

-They've been eating fish here.

-I can see little fish bones inside that.

0:56:090:56:14

This is... I mean, it's almost still wet

0:56:140:56:17

so you're talking within the last 48 hours.

0:56:170:56:20

And, interestingly, sometimes you find these

0:56:200:56:23

and they've got bits of moor hen in them. They love moor hen.

0:56:230:56:27

This is a signalling system

0:56:270:56:28

so they're going to drop a little bit here and a little bit further up

0:56:280:56:31

-and a little bit further up.

-Yeah.

0:56:310:56:32

I mean, they don't sit there for 15 minutes reading National Geographic.

0:56:320:56:35

MARTIN LAUGHS

0:56:350:56:38

Are there any final tips?

0:56:390:56:40

-Well, if you want to see an otter...

-I do, I do.

0:56:400:56:44

..you've got to get the wind direction right.

0:56:440:56:46

So what you want is you want the wind coming off the otter

0:56:460:56:49

and blowing into your face and if you do that

0:56:490:56:52

-you've got a pretty good chance of seeing one.

-Brilliant.

0:56:520:56:55

There we are - the Springwatch Guide to Otters.

0:56:580:57:02

We've learnt what an otter is, where it lives,

0:57:020:57:06

what it gets up to on our coasts and rivers...

0:57:060:57:09

..even in our cities.

0:57:110:57:13

We know its history, and, most importantly,

0:57:130:57:17

how to go about seeing one.

0:57:170:57:19

But there is one last question.

0:57:210:57:25

Did I, during the making of this film,

0:57:250:57:28

get to see an otter for myself?

0:57:280:57:31

Yes!

0:57:320:57:33

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie!

0:57:330:57:35

-I just saw an otter!

-No!

-I swear to you.

-Where?

0:57:350:57:37

I just saw an otter swimming straight towards us up here.

0:57:370:57:40

Just literally in this pool here!

0:57:440:57:47

-It was coming straight towards us.

-Did it see us?

0:57:470:57:50

Yes, because it was only there, feet away from us.

0:57:500:57:53

The first time in my whole life.

0:57:530:57:56

We've been here two minutes!

0:57:560:57:59

But I've only seen about five otters here in the daytime

0:57:590:58:02

in my whole life living.

0:58:020:58:03

It was an otter in that pool not 20 feet away

0:58:030:58:06

from where we are right now.

0:58:060:58:08

I never dreamt I would see a river otter for myself

0:58:080:58:13

and we'd only been there about two minutes.

0:58:130:58:16

It just shows it can happen.

0:58:160:58:19

But I promise you one thing -

0:58:190:58:21

if you ever get to see a wild otter for yourself,

0:58:210:58:25

you will remember it for the rest of your life.

0:58:250:58:28

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:440:58:47

The Springwatch team are joined by fieldcraft experts Simon King and Charlie Hamilton James for an in-depth view of one of the UK's most charismatic yet enigmatic animals - the otter.

Living not only along our rivers but also at the coast, otters have remarkable adaptations to a life both in and out of water. The team bring you the very latest scientific discoveries as well as a review of the turbulent history of the otter in the UK. It looks like the otter is making a steady comeback around the country but not everybody agrees this is good news.


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