Otters are making a very welcome return to the waterways of East Anglia, having been persecuted to near-extinction in our region. They and American mink often occupy the same stretch of river or drain, and otter families are frequent visitors to the mink rafts we deploy, which is why the raft tunnels are fitted with otter guards to narrow the entrance and keep out these much larger cousins of the mink we seek to remove. Otters enjoy a good dust bath, and a camera set up by volunteer Cliff Carson to monitor one of his mink rafts in the Cambridgeshire Fens happened to be perfectly positioned to record this behaviour recently. Enjoy!
People often ask the very reasonable question as to why it is that we are attempting to remove one mustelid species (American mink) from East Anglia while at the same time rejoicing that another (European otter) is increasing in numbers. The answer to this is simple. European otters have been in Britain for many thousands of years, and our other native wildlife has adapted to live in balance with this predator. American mink, however, are relative newcomers to this country (introduced for fur farming less than a century ago) and some native species simply cannot survive in the face of mink predation. Being smaller than otters, mink can squeeze into the nesting burrows of water voles, sand martins and kingfishers, for example, and these creatures can be wiped out where mink abound. There are rumours that otters displace mink, but a recent study led by Oxford University showed that unfortunately this isn’t the case. If our waterways are to be free of mink, we cannot expect otters to do the job for us.