Otters return to Greater Manchester

  • New analysis of records collated by the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit demonstrate that Otters have returned to Greater Manchester and are present across the region.

  • Otters were nearly wiped out in the UK between the 1950s and 1970s.

  • Changes to the law and environmental improvements led to a return to most of the UK, but Greater Manchester lagged behind as one of the few regions still without Otters.

New analysis carried out by Natural Course has produced strong evidence that Otters have returned to live in Greater Manchester.  The data was provided by the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit, and the findings have been confirmed by a soon-to-be-published Natural Course volunteer Otter survey.

Between the 1950s and the 1970s the Otter population in the UK dwindled to near extinction.  This was mostly due to organochlorine pesticide pollution in rivers, along with other forms of pollution and persecution such as hunting.  Since then, the pesticide and hunting have been banned, and river quality has improved resulting in a gradual population recovery and increase of range beyond their last few strongholds.

Until recently, Greater Manchester remained one of the few regions of the UK still lacking Otters.  Between 5 and 10 years ago, any reports of Otters in Greater Manchester were suspected to be from animals passing through while searching for suitable habitat to set up home.  This theory was backed up by only one Otter casualty within Greater Manchester having been reported to the Environment Agency as part of the Otter Project at Cardiff University.  However, this appears to have been underestimating their presence.

Based on records collated by the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit, we can see the return of Otters to Greater Manchester.  The cumulative increase over time in the range of waterbodies where Otters have been recorded demonstrates that the Otters have now been seen across the majority of the Greater Manchester region.

Four images of Greater Manchester showing an increase in otter records over time

Otters spreading across Greater Manchester

It is not just their spread that is increasing, but the number of records has seen a rapid increase as well.  To some extent, the increase in records came from an increase in survey effort, largely due to ecological surveys related to large riverside development and flood management projects.  However, the spread in distribution and increase in the number of records is undeniable, and when combined with Otter breeding having occurred at a confidential location, we can confidently claim that Otters are once again resident in Greater Manchester.

Natural Course Project Officer Mike Beard said:

“As apex predators, Otters need healthy rivers in which to live.  Thanks to our analysis of the records carefully collated by the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit, we now have additional evidence of the positive impact coming from decades of effort to improve the rivers both nationally and within Greater Manchester.  The Otter data also forms an important baseline that will feature in the State of Nature monitoring report that is part of the Greater Manchester Local Nature Recovery Strategy.”