Amongst all the doom and gloom about our declining wildlife, it’s nice to have some good news. Those big cousins of stoats and weasels, otters and badgers, both seem to be doing well, often in what may be thought of as surprising places.
In the 1970s otters had all but disappeared from most of England, driven to the brink of extinction by unsympathetic river management, pollution and persecution. Since then several major initiatives have reversed the trends: there are now otters in every county again. And they are not only rural animals anymore. Recent studies by The Wildlife Trust, the Canals and Rivers Trust, and Birmingham University show that they are roaming around our canals, including those in Winson Green. This is probably the closest otters have ever been to such a major city centre as Birmingham. Also, the Wildlife Trust, as a partner in the Salmon in the Stour Project, has been recruiting ‘otter spotters’ for the Stour and its tributaries, where otters have been seen in the Stourbridge area.
Badgers too are becoming increasingly common after major declines. Once persecuted for the so-called ‘sport’ of badger baiting, their recovery is a testimony to how legal protection and changes to our attitudes benefit wildlife. Where I live in West Bromwich, the very heart of the conurbation, there are now badger setts within 300 yards of my house. There are also reports of them in many Birmingham suburbs.
The world not being perfect not everyone will welcome this news. Digging for worms badgers can wreak havoc in gardens, allotments, and on golf courses. If you have prize coi carp, or other outdoor fish, they will need protection if otters are in the neighbourhood. The key to peaceful co-existence though is non-lethal methods of control, such as exclusion, not returning to the bad old days of persecution.
Two other members of the same family are worth a mention. Mink, an unwelcome introduced species, is declining in areas where otters are expanding, something most people think is good news. As is the slow but sure return of polecats. These wild ferrets are difficult to spot, so may be more common than records suggest.
To help understand exactly what is going on with all of these species, the local biological records centre, EcoRecord, would like to hear of any sightings. Find them on www.ecorecord.org.uk .