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Angling Times otter article

Steve Lewis

Senior Member
Interesting article in this week's AT which offers views from Pete Reading, Mark Everard, Steve Pope and a non-angling scientist.

It won't settle the argument either way and is sure to ruffle a few feathers (so be warned), but I thought I'd mention it as there's a little bit of actual investigative science referenced.

Aaaaaaaaaaand GO!!!!!!! (runs out of thread)

Steve Lewis

Senior Member
Andrew - nothing on the website.

Rather than reproduce in full here by way of a photo of the article (I don't want to get Andy F in copyright trouble or anything), I will summarise:

Steve Pope thinks predator-prey balance is at a tipping point in most barbel rivers based on anecdotal evidence and mentions a petition to the government being prepared;

Pete Reading's opinion, based on 40 years of fishing the Hampshire Avon and Stour, is that otters have had little impact and other contributing factors have had more of a role (he doesn't specify any), and also mentions that the otter problem at the Great Ouse was more a case of a very old barbel population being targeted and unable to escape. He thinks younger barbel are much better at evading otters and his overall opinion is that a natural balance is now being reached;

Ouse specialist Jamie Cartwright agrees with Pete Reading and says he's seen little evidence of large barbel kills, but has noticed a huge decline in the number of signal crayfish, and thinks the otters are targeting these. He also says lots of younger fish are coming through;

Mark Everard says similar seems to be happening on the Bristol Avon and analysis of otter spraints reveals far more crayfish and small fish (I'll add my own caveat here - if this is evidence that Mark has gathered himself, then this would likely have been carried out on the very upper reaches near Malmesbury, where there has NEVER been a barbel population, with a small number [about 5000] of barblets only being introduced up there within the last 10 years);

Ecologist Daniel Wood has carried out otter spraint studies on the Somerset wetlands and the Bristol Avon and they show that the otters there have been predominantly feeding on small birds, eels and crayfish, with only a small portion being larger fish. He thinks destruction of habitat and spawning grounds have had a much more significant impact on barbel numbers. He is also of the opinion that when people are reporting multiple numbers of otters they are actually only seeing a single family, and says that otters control their own numbers quite well;

Invasion and fish ecology professor Rob Britton has studied otter diets and says the proportion of "angler target species" is low, but acknowledges they will take fish, and therefore agrees that otter fencing is still a good preventative measure.

NOTE - with the exception of my contextual comment about Mark Everard's BA study, the above is summarised from the article and does not necessarily represent my own thinking on the matter.

Chris Thomson

Senior Member
Or the stretch of the hants avon above fordingbridge where there were 4 otters( prob same family) that ravaged the barbel population !

Steve Lewis

Senior Member
sounds like pete reading is contradicting himself... saying otters have had no impact on the ouse ... but they killed all the old ones....
funny no one mentions the wensum or the ivel
.... i’m team pope on this one

Pete Reading's comments about no impact were specifically about the Avon and Stour. He mentioned the Great Ouse matter as a separate issue. That was probs just how I laid it out, so a bad editorial thing on my part.

Terry Harman

Senior Member & Supporter
adams mill isn’t the ouse though joe is it ? it’s one venue on the ouse what about turvey ... harold odell ...sharnbrook ... olney etc etc. has pete reading ever seriously fished the ouse ? most of the “names” that fished the ouse were the glory hunters that fished adams mill and kickles

Steve Lewis

Senior Member
Wasn't/isn't Adams Mill some isolated ecological and biological oddity though? As in one of those short stretches of small river where everything seems to get mysteriously massive?

... I don't know what my point is there. Maybe that it's not a good comparable? Dunno.

Graham Elliott

Senior Member & Supporter
I can only say.

Barbel once they got to fair size, say 5lb had no real predators to kill them in numbers. They have now.

The river Kennet numbers of barbel dropped by over ( my estimate 80%) in the three or so years after the first group of otters were sighted.

Whilst the River Wye had significant Salmon stretches protected by the local shotgun bearing keepers even 10 years ago, I suspect that very few now remain exclusive Salmon fisheries with Keepers employed. Ingestone as an example.

IMO barbel numbers have reduced by 50% in the eight years I have fished the river.
Otter sightings in even busy river areas in the middle of the day in areas like Ross on Wye are quite common.

I remember about 10 years ago watching 5 or six barbel leap clear from the water from a swim that was 20 feet deep at Pixham on the
L Severn.....Followed by 2 Otters. They love them.

There will never be a licensed Otter Cull.

Alex Warren

Senior Member & Supporter
Am I right in thinking that spraint analysis possibly isn’t providing an accurate picture in terms of data? I’ve seen the photos of Carp and Barbel Otter kills and they just take the soft tissues and guts. The recent Ribble video shows this, as well as other photos I’ve seen. I’m happy to be corrected if this isn’t the case.

With all due respect to both anglers, the opinions of ‘The Pope’ and Pete Reading are probably not significantly more valid that the vast majority of the members of this forum - I know they’ve both been involved with studies and may have had access to more data than the average you or I, but I’d take both their opinions with a pinch of salt. If you held a gun to my head, I’d side with Steve Pope. As most will know, they’re not the best of pals so it’s no surprise their opinions are at the opposite ends of the scale. This creates a bit of controversy, gets folk talking and sells a few more magazines.

I’ll respect the findings of scientists/ecologists and the scientific process, if it has been carried out correctly. In this case, I’m not sure it has. But how do you go about scientifically proving the impact of Otters on ‘angler target species’? I don’t know. Anecdotal observational, photographic or video evidence isn’t going to do it, as appalling and heartbreaking as it is for us as anglers to see.

With regards to the suggested petition, how many signatures did the last one get? 12k? I don’t remember if it had much in the way of scientific evidence, but the response from parliament was pretty damning in terms of the desired outcome of the petition.

I’m probably not as anti-Otter as some, but in my opinion, they’re top of the food chain in an ecosystem that’s in decline, for a multitude of other reasons. I think that statement is true for all rivers in the UK, albeit by varying degrees.

Otters are the poster animal for various trusts and conservation groups, who use their presence to demonstrate a healthy, flourishing environment. They are seen as cute, cuddly and playful by the vast majority of the public.

My opinion is that nature will eventually find find a way, but it won’t be one that’s favourable to us as Barbel anglers.

Sorry for the gloomy outlook, I hope to be proved wrong.