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Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Friday, 5 June 2009 14:34 UK
Otter days ahead for Manchester
An otter
Otters were last seen in Manchester a century ago

It used to be the case that, to see an otter in these parts, you'd have to take a trip to Chester Zoo.

But it's now believed that the much-loved mammal has returned to Manchester's rivers and streams.

The Environment Agency carried out a survey in 2009 looking at wildlife along Greater Manchester's waterways.

It now says there is evidence of otters on the Irwell at Ramsbottom, at Bradshaw Brook in Bolton and close to the Bollin near Altrincham.

That evidence is mostly spraint sites - spraint being the official name for otter poo - though there have been no actual sightings of otters as yet.

Gary Morris of the Environment Agency says it's not surprising.

They are generally nocturnal, especially within urban rivers, so we'd be very lucky if anyone spotted an otter in the daytime
Gary Morris, Environment Agency

"Otters are very, very difficult to spot - they are generally nocturnal, especially within urban rivers, so we'd be very lucky if anyone spotted an otter in the daytime."

Gary's colleague, Duncan Revell, agrees but says that their presence in the rivers isn't just good news for wildlife watchers, it also shows just how much cleaner Manchester's rivers have become.

"It's quite a big deal - it shows that the water quality is improving, it shows that there are good fish stocks in the rivers, so it's a good sign that the water environment is improving."

Sightings

It is over a hundred years since otters were last seen in the area, after habitat destruction, regular otter hunts and pollution decimated the local population.

European mink
Not an otter: the European mink

There have been reports of their return in the interim years, but these have not been backed up with evidence and have mostly turned out to be sightings of mink instead.

However, Gary is now certain that otters are back in Manchester's waters and remains confident that they will thrive in the region once again.

"This is a real pivotal moment," he said. "Now that we've got them on the Irwell, we're hoping they will stay here and expand in the long run, colonising other catchments in the Greater Manchester area."

And while he stressed the fact that they're very difficult to spot in the wild, he added that, "there is now at least that hope, whereas 30 years ago, you wouldn't even have had that chance."

So keep your eyes peeled. You might just catch a glimpse of an otter next time you're taking a stroll down by the riverbank.




SEE ALSO
Otter spotting: Your pictures
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