Thursday, 1 January 2009

About otters in Shetland
Otter watching has long been one of the main attractions for nature-lovers coming to Shetland – perhaps not surprisingly, since the islands support over 12% of the entire UK population of Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra, the highest density anywhere in Europe.

In Shetland, unlike many other parts of the UK, the otter’s behaviour tends to be governed by tide and daylight. They typically prefer to hunt either side of low tide, (especially as the flood tide comes in) and in daylight hours, when the nocturnal fish that make up the large majority of the diet are more easily caught. The otter will also eat crabs, other crustaceans, birds and, very occasionally, rabbits too.

Over a long period of study, it is possible to gain an intimate knowledge of inhabited territories, and even predict their movements, learning where and when they prefer to feed, the locations of holts and ‘lie ups’, where they sleep play and groom and the subtle signs which reveal their presence. What’s more, while to the untrained eye all otters will look alike, they are in fact always identifiable, either by subtle markings on the chin, throat and lips, or battle scars which they often bear on the nose!

My favourite sites
I visit many sites around Shetland, some of which are well-known territories on the mainland and larger islands, some which are on small, uninhabited islands, where the only other human presence is the occasional visit from a crofter tending his sheep.

Throughout the islands, visitors and locals alike occasionally enjoy views of otters in or around areas with much human activity, the inter-island ferry terminals being a prime example of places where a lucky sighting is always possible. However, these encounters are a mere substitute for the much more personal and intimate encounters you can experience in an undisturbed territory along a beautiful, remote Shetland coastline.

To avoid potential disturbance to the sites I visit I will avoid disclosing the locations of sites I visit.

Otters are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and are extremely sensitive to disturbance. I operate under a licence authorised by Scottish Natural Heritage.