FANCY A SPOT OF otter-spotting on Birmingham’s canals? The Canal & River Trust is looking for volunteers to carry out the first formal survey into how one of the nation’s best-loved mammals is faring in the area.
Since the 1950s the number of otters on Britain’s waterways have been in decline, due to a combination of habitat loss, persecution and the use of pesticides. However, otter numbers have been making a comeback in recent years due to better water quality and efforts to improve their habitats.
Previous studies have focussed on otter populations in rivers but now the Trust, working with students from the University of Birmingham, is about to begin the first proper study into how they are doing in the region’s more urban canal environments.
The volunteers will be asked to walk along the city’s canals each week for two months looking for signs of otters. They’ll also be building a picture of the potential for otters by making a note of features such as the amount of vegetation cover, the width of the canal and the variety of plant species visible on the bankside.
The team will also be monitoring shrews in canalside hedgerows, in particular the elusive water shrew which has venomous saliva that it uses to stun its prey of frogs, shrimps or caddis fly larvae – and which, thankfully, is harmless to humans.
“Just a few years ago, you would never have imagined that otters would be seen on Birmingham’s formerly industrial canals, yet that’s exactly what they’ve been doing over the past few years,” said Paul Wilkinson, ecologist for the Canal & River Trust.
“What we need to do now is to build up a picture of where both otters and shrews are and that’s where we need the help of local people.”
To find out more about becoming a volunteer otter spotter contact Paul Wilkinson at enquiries. firstname.lastname@example.org