As part of Heritage Week (a week-long series of events that showcases Ireland’s natural and cultural heritage), I organised an “Otter Walk” along the King’s Channel, Waterford. The event was attended by 19 people and included both locals and tourists.
The King’s Channel is part of a Natura 2000 site protected under the EU Habitats Directive due to a variety of protected species which occur in the region. One of the species afforded this special level of protection is the elusive otter.
Due to the shyness of the otter, people rarely get to observe them during the day. Instead, otters tend to be more active early in the morning or late in the evening when they are least likely to be observed by you or me. However, the otter leaves behind a number of indicative clues which we can use piece together a picture of their presence and activity. During the walk, I pointed out footprints, paths, resting places and spraints (otter poo) to the group. If you are interested to learn how to spot otter signs for yourself, have a look at my previous post on “How to Look for Otters”.
I’ve run a number of similar public training events and workshops while I was working on the Mammals in a Sustainable Environment (MISE) project, and I’m always amazed that I keep meeting new people, all of whom are interested in learning more about our environment. During last week’s otter walk, I met some familar faces such as the Doherty family from Cheekpont, Co. Waterford, but I also met many new people including three generations of the Pipe family from Somerset, who were holidaying in Waterford. Shahidul, originally from Bangladesh, but now settled in Waterford even told me about the fishermen in Banglagesh that fish with otters! I firmly believe that initiatives like Heritiage Week are hugely important to help us all work together to share knowledge of our natural heritage which contributes to increased awareness of our environment, and is hugely important for our tourist industry.
Earlier this year, I was awarded a grant from The Heritage Council to conduct an otter survey along the Waterford Estuary. A number of volunteers including Lenka Jindrichova collected otter spraints from Dunmore East to the King’s Channel, and she also conducted DNA analysis on the spraints. The DNA analysis included the genetic verification of the presence of otters, gender determination of spraints and some DNA based dietary analysis to see what the otters were eating. The best DNAs are currently being used to identify individual otters to provide an estimate of the number of otters present in the area. To learn more about my project, check out my post about the “Waterford Estuary Otter Survey”.