Table of Contents 1.

The most elusive, charming and exciting wild creature to see in Britain, must surely be the otter. Even a distant fleeting moment is enough to get my pulse racing. But my first encounter with a wild otter was more an exciting experience, rather than a visual delight. Having taken some expert advice, I sat beneath the arch of an old stone bridge spanning a narrow waterway. A low light camera at the ready. As time passed and darkness descended a near full moon slowly rose over the adjacent lake. Alerted by the whistling call of an otter somewhere upstream in the reedbeds, its voice carried far in the still night air. Alerted by a gentle splash not far away, a trail of bubbles suddenly passed beneath my feet, leaving a sparkling wake vanishing into the night. Although not an actual sighting, the experience of getting so close to such a rare animal was a thrilling moment. But as a film maker such luck is not much good for a television audience. Only after many attempts in more remote locations, did I finally film wild otters on a river bank for a documentary about a farm that time had forgotten. But that is another story.

During the 1960s the impact of a highly toxic and a persistent pesticide leaching into British rivers was causing great concern. Otter numbers had crashed across the country, even becoming extinct in many parts. Yet of all the counties in England, Devon was one of the few to retain a viable population of these secretive animals. Mainly because Dartmoor streams remained free of the lethal chemical and the fish were safe to eat.

A year after my first encounter with a wild otter, better luck came when filming in the early morning sun on a remote riverside bank. Two otters playing. Their lithe energy and inquisitive nature making them the most enchanting of all our native wild mammals to watch. But much to my surprise an even closer encounter was to come at the BBC Television Studios in Plymouth, where I was based at the time. Involved in a popular weekly television series featuring some fascinating guests. This time a noted actress of the large and small screen, Daphne Neville. Who was also the owner of a young rescued otter cub. Daphne’s knowledge and passion for the creatures made her an expert and eloquent ambassador for the species. The recording that afternoon involved introducing Daphne to the South West audience, while her lively young four-pawed co-star completely stole the show. Recording complete, we waited for the production team to check for technical quality. Daphne then asked for a favour. Apparently, ‘Bee the Otter’ always became restless after about 30 minutes in a car. So, driving back home towards Bristol, our animal star would need a break and somewhere to exercise its little legs. I lost no time telephoning my wife to warn her and our two young children, that we would be having some lively company coming for tea. ‘Bee’ did not disappoint. The sheer entertainment value of a fearless, boisterous young otter racing around our lounge, kitchen and hallway chasing ice cubes was priceless. A cherished family memory of a special time at home with two very special guests.

Andrew Cooper