Edinburgh predation conference

James Williams showcased the work of the Somerset Otter Group  in a  presentation to the conference hosted by the International Otter Survival Fund  in Edinburgh.  The topic for the day was damage to anglers’ fish stocks, not only  by otters, but also by cormorants and saw-billed  ducks.  This is a topic  we  have considerable experience of, and we helped the Institute of Fisheries Management host a similar day at Cannington College last year.  In his talk, he explained our ongoing survey efforts to assess the true strength of our widespread population.  As one of the first areas to get the otter back after the  major national decline, Somerset demonstrates that the population is self-regulating, and that the  territorial nature of this species causes the numbers to plateau out at a remarkably low density.  The statistics also show that this recovered but sparse population is very fragile, and that it suffers major  setbacks from time to time, setbacks which would reduce the population below a sustainable threshold  if they were to occur in consecutive years.

Other major points to emerge were that the anglers’ problems are different in  extensive, natural river fisheries from those in intensively stocked commercial ponds and lakes.  In the rivers, the continued absence of the keystone predator over many years resulted in a fish population with a skewed age-range structure and a lack of balance between species.   It will require time  to sort things out, and of  course there are other problems such as siltation, and pollution in solution, which is one of the things the  Cardiff team are addressing in the otters we send for post mortem.   The intensive ponds require protective  fencing if possible.  This is expensive, but amazingly, it  was disclosed that the pot of money, that the Environment Agency has put by for this  for the last three years, has never been fully claimed.  Which in my view totally destroys the validity of those  anglers who are baying for the culling of these still rare animals, but cannot be bothered to get a fencing grant.  Happily, hereabouts, many fishers  seem more sensible, and  SOG has been able to help 3 different groups get such a grant in the  last year.

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