The otter population in the UK began to decline precipitously, and appears to be closely linked to the use of certain pesticides. These pesticides also impacted bird populations, especially birds of prey, because they tended to build up as they moved up the food chain rather than being excreted from the body. Once people realized what was going on, the pesticides were no longer used. Otter populations began to increase, but because they breed slowly their numbers didn’t recover as quickly as bird populations. In the 1980s the Nature Conservancy Council (now known as Natural England) stepped in and began a reintroduction program to help aid the natural recovery that was already happening with otters, but was moving so slowly that extinction seemed inevitable, in spite of the pesticides no longer being used. The Otter Trust enacted the program, releasing 117 captive-bred otters over a span of 16 years. These otters, buffering the natural recovery process, helped to improve populations back to strong numbers in the wild.
Also, killing otters became punishable by law in 1981 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, threatening 5000 pound fine or a 6 month prison term.
Otters have made such a comeback that some anglers are complaining that the fish populations are being decimated. The word “cull” is being suggested in whispering in circles, for fear that a public request for one might cause high controversy given the otter’s new iconic status.
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