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Wildlife service enlists the public's help for otter spotting project

In 2011 otters were spotted in every county on the island of Ireland.

THE NATIONAL PARKS and Wildlife Service (NPWS) wants to know if you have spotted any otters lately, as it is launching a new otter survey to find out more about the goings on of the furry little mustelids across Ireland. 

The survey results will be used to produce a map that will be compared to the results of the last survey (carried out in 2011) to see how our otter population is faring. 

In collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast and the National Biodiversity Data Centre the NPWS will be looking at over 900 sites throughout the country, including rivers, lakes and coastal areas. 

Members of the public are being asked to keep their eyes peeled too, and can submit sighting reports online.

Dr Ferdia Marnell, a Mammal Specialist with the NPWS, said that the otter is one of Ireland’s “most elusive” animals, so it would be hugely beneficial to his team to get as much help from the public as possible. 

“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,” he added. 

Marnell said that Spraints can, however, be detected because they contain fish bones and crayfish shells, which makes them easy to tell apart from the droppings of other animals. 

Otters are most active at night, and are typically spotted at dawn or dusk. 

They can be seen at times swimming in rivers or along rocky shorelines. In Cork city, there is a specific walking trail along the River Lee for otter enthusiasts. 

 The species has suffered decline in other countries, but remained relatively widespread in Ireland.  

In the last survey, otters were spotted in every county on the island. 

The otter hunts in water, but spends much of its time on land, and as a result is vulnerable to river corridor management such as culverting, dredging and the clearance of bankside vegetation, as well as pollution, pesticides, oil spillages, coastal developments and road traffic. 

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