MBE for James Williams.

Some of you may already have seen from the local news that James has deservedly been awarded an MBE for services to otter conservation in Somerset.

James was interviewed yesterday for Points West and his response to the award was, ‘It is also recognition and a pat on the back that the work that we are doing, not just me, but the other people as well, is worthwhile.’

This is true and it is an enormous boost to our otter group to be associated with such an award.

However, I would like to detail some of the many activities James carries out, which have rightly resulted in his recognition in the Queen’s birthday honours.

Due to interest shown beyond the Somerset Otter Group I have re-written and expanded the summary of James’ work, inserted below. 01/08/2013.

James Williams was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours on 16th June 2013, for conservation of Otters in Somerset.

James has been surveying and recording Otters in Somerset, a county in the South West of England, for 45 years. For over 20 years he has been chairman of the Somerset Otter Group, an association of volunteers who undertake Otter surveys. James enthuses over 140 volunteers and organises an annual co-ordinated survey, this gives the location of many Otters on the same weekend.

His talks always fill every seat, his enthusiasm, passion and confident articulate manner make them a delight. His two books and many articles convey depths of knowledge in the same pleasurable but thought provoking style, spanning from 1967 to date. Amongst his many articles are two on blindness in Otters; IUCN 1989 and Mammal News 1993.

He has collaborated on scientific papers for example; Cholystitis in otters (Lutra Lutra) and Mink (Mustela vison) caused by the fluke Pseudamphistomum truncatum, Vic Simpson, The Veterinary Record 2005. Do Eurasian otters Lutra Lutra in Somerset Levels prey preferentially on non-native fish species? Rafael Miranda, 2008.

His two books; The Otter Among Us, Tiercel publishing, 2000, shortlisted for Wildlife book of the year. The Otter, Merlin Unwin Books, 2010.

James has amassed detailed knowledge of the Otter and all its studies; he generously gives his time and shares information with students. He has supported many through their research. He treats all information as something to be shared for the benefit of the otter. This is a consistent contribution from James, to many individuals. He has enormous expertise but is extremely modest, his thirst to know more coupled with his ability to give direction, advice, encouragement and help to students and others, enables more to be learnt about the Otter every day. Many students have been helped by James over the years, guided into the right area needing research and then assisted in completing the study. Many more he has enthused to pursue a career in wildlife. He has had a huge impact and influenced many people over the years.

James’s fundraising and personal financial contributions enabled the Cardiff University team to present their research to the IUCN Otter Specialist Group conference in Italy. He further donated the costs for a student from Nepal to attend the same conference. He has covered the costs incurred by selected students conducting research within Somerset. Through the Somerset Otter Group he has been the CASE partner for a PhD on the parasites of otters in the U.K. He co-ordinated the collection of samples for another PhD study into chemical communication. Over the years he has made many such contributions and his assistance to research is considerable.

His assistance to the Cardiff University students and the Environment Agencies post mortem programme is evident from their feedback to the Somerset Otter Group. James ensures that recoverable dead Otters within the county are collected and transported to Cardiff University. Prior to 2007 he sent the bodies to Vic Simpson, veterinary surgeon, in Cornwall. James has recorded details of Otter deaths since 1995 and has successfully used the information to mitigate dangers.

James is a very keen fisherman and for 14 years was chairman of a fishing club, now president. He regularly visits Scotland to fish for Salmon and has made fishing trips to Iceland, Russia and Alaska. His dual interests enable him to see both points of view in the clash caused by otter predation. He tries to use co-operation rather than conflict to resolve issues.

James has been rightly recognised for continued dedication to the Otter, wearing out countless Wellington boots and pencils whilst conducting personal painstaking surveys, in his determination to give this most special species the helping hand it deserves. For many years he has advised on any issues which could impact on the Otter in Somerset, working to influence changes and keep the Otter safe. All of his achievements cannot be detailed in this summary but it will have exposed a few more inches of the iceberg of his work.

Lucy Mead.

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