Otter populations across Europe have declined since the 1960s, but thanks to the Trojan horse efforts of voluntary groups such as the Cork Nature Network (CNN), Ireland remains a stronghold for the ‘madraí uisce (Irish for otters).

CNN’s Otter Project has been recognized by the International Otter Survival Fund as being committed to raising the profile of otters not only in Cork but across Ireland, winning an “Otter Oscar” for its work.

Gill Weyman, co-founder and director of CNN, said they were “over the moon” to be recognized for their efforts by the International Otter Survival Fund. CNN won the Oscar Otter for Best Group or Organization – theirs is one of the largest dedicated to otters in Ireland and continues to grow.

“We have done a fair amount of work promoting the otter,” Ms. Weyman said.

Some members of the international award winning Cork Nature Network (left to right) Richard Keyes McDonnell, Marion Schmoranzer, Gill Weyman, Roberta Maini and Rory O’Connor pictured near the River Lee in Cork. Photo credit: Denis Minihane

“They are around the city and the port, they are really everywhere. The only species of otter in Ireland is the Eurasian otter, which is quite rare in some other European countries. Populations collapsed at one point due to water pollution, but there has been a lot of work across Europe to bring them back, and I think we have done very well, ”she said. declared.

Otters are a protected species in Ireland, and it is an offense to kill, injure or intentionally capture them, or to intentionally damage or destroy their breeding and roosting grounds. However, otters are still under threat as their habitats are encroached on by human development, and they also face pollution from herbicides and heavy metals, as well as accidental deaths from road traffic and fish traps.

A central aspect of CNN’s Otter Project are the walking trails around Cork which educate the public about otters and their habitats. CNN has already established two otter tracks in Cork City and Bishopstown, with two more in the works for Ballincollig and Youghal.

“The trails are meant to educate people about otters,” Ms. Weyman said.

“They are nocturnal, so the chances of spotting them on the trail are pretty slim, but people have the opportunity to learn more about otters and the habitats they live in. Plus it’s a chance to get out into the environment anyway and feel the force of nature around us, ”she said.

Otters are semi-aquatic and spend most of their time in the water along the coasts and banks. CNN has conducted extensive research on the urban otters that live and feed in the heart of downtown Cork. A study identified at least 11 urban otters living in the city.

CNN used DNA from sprains (otter droppings) to identify individual otters and their diet, and estimate population sizes, and also use infrared cameras to photograph otters when they come out at night.

Some members of the Cork Nature Network which won the 'Otter Oscar' (left to right) Richard Keyes McDonnell, Marion Schmoranzer, Gill Weyman, Roberta Maini and Rory O'Connor.  A central aspect of CNN's Otter Project are the walking trails around Cork which educate the public about otters and their habitats.  Photo credit: Denis Minihane
Some members of the Cork Nature Network which won the ‘Otter Oscar’ (left to right) Richard Keyes McDonnell, Marion Schmoranzer, Gill Weyman, Roberta Maini and Rory O’Connor. A central aspect of CNN’s Otter Project are the walking trails around Cork which educate the public about otters and their habitats. Photo credit: Denis Minihane

Ms Weyman said the group is currently working on a new investigation of otters in and around the city and port of Cork, using otter hairs collected for DNA analysis, which she says is more reliable than sprains.

CNN has done extensive work in Blackpool, where the River Bride provides key habitat for otters, such as a citizen science survey of Bridal Otters and an awareness campaign in local schools. Ms Weyman said they now plan to make otter education more accessible to schools around the world.

“We recently secured funding from Fota Wildlife Park to create an online education kit, which we hope to start next year, so that schools have the opportunity to use the resources to learn more about the otter,” he said. Ms. Weyman said.

In February of this year, CNN had huge success with a short film they produced about Cork Otters. More than 500 people attended the Zoom premiere and the film has racked up nearly 4,000 views on their Youtube channel.

Despite all of CNN’s award-winning work to bring attention to Cork otters, Ms Weyman says the bottom line is that otters should never be disturbed. “Look from a distance, they don’t like to be disturbed,” she said.

She added that CNN will continue to raise awareness of otters and their habitats as a critical consideration in future planning and management of rivers.

“Otters need good river margins, the vegetation along the rivers is quite important. They will breed often and have nesting areas called layers along the banks of the river. And this is not only for otters, but also for other aquatic species like birds and insects that live on the banks of rivers.

“When we plan and look at river management, we need to make sure that we have these areas for wildlife. They are very important, and it is really important to make people understand that we are connected to nature and that everything is connected, ”she said.