By UKWOT Founder & Chair Dave Webb
When I established the UK Wild Otter Trust, I never dreamed that it would grow as rapidly it has. In a mere 18 months we’ve seen massive changes across the organisation—in what we do, how we do it, and, crucially, why we do it at all.
We began as a Facebook group back in 2016; we now also have an associated Facebook page and are registered as a UK charity, giving us a great deal more credibility (this was no mean feat—the application process was a minefield, and took several attempts to get right!).
From the very beginning we’ve worked hard to acknowledge the issue of otter predation, especially on stillwater fishing lakes, and how this affects the angling fraternity. Alongside otter conservation, helping fisheries with predation management is one of our key concerns; for the benefit of either side, doing nothing was not an option. We began to engage with angling groups to explore what they saw as possible solutions to their difficulties, and increasing numbers of people got in touch as they recognised a new organisation that might be able to help. One issue raised was that, given the high level of protection bestowed upon the Eurasian otter, if an otter got into a fenced lake then there was no legal way of removing it, causing fisheries to suffer potential financial losses as a result.
After nearly two years of negotiating with Natural England, in September of 2016 the very first humane trapping licence was issued to UKWOT personnel (without a licence, trapping is illegal). We’ve now successfully engaged with almost 70 fisheries, humanely trapped and released, unharmed, two otters, and removed many others from fisheries by other humane means such as simple flushing or providing an exit route for them to leave the fenced complex. The whole project was controversial; it wasn’t the usual way of thinking and we received much criticism as a result of securing our licence. However, we have proven that it was needed—and that it does indeed work. Trapping is carried out as a last resort, when all other ideas have failed to remove the animal: we do not trap unless we have to. For that reason it is one of the biggest steps forward for otter conservation and angling working partnerships in the 21st century—and has won significant support as a result.
In 2017, I had the privilege of winning the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Conservation in Action Award. In October, I travelled to the House of Lords in London with some of the team to collect said award: a very proud day for us all!
We have achieved a significant amount in a very short period of time—but these are just the first steps of our journey in protecting otters and pushing to improve otter conservation.
We’re thrilled to have you on board!