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‘Dreadful’ period of Shetland otter road deaths prompts driver safety plea

A dead otter photographed at the roadside by Richard Shucksmith in Shetland, at Girlsta.
A dead otter photographed at the roadside by Richard Shucksmith in Shetland, at Girlsta.

More should be done to protect Shetland’s otters from being killed by traffic, a biologist has argued after a particularly tragic week on local roads.

Shetland is home around 800 to 1,000 otters, making it one of the most densely-populated places in Europe for the animals.

But deaths of the species caused by collisions with vehicles on Shetland’s roads is an unfortunately common occurrence.

Richard Shucksmith, a marine biologist and photographer based in Shetland, says there has been around 10 reported incidents of otters being seen or reported dead by roadsides in the past week.

Shetland is home to hundreds of otters

He said that at this time of year, dead or injured otters by the roadside are sadly a frequent sight.

Richard explained that the issue has been ongoing for a long time: “Road kill has been going on for years now.

“Yet, we still have one of the highest densities of otters in Europe.

“So the population does seem to be able to take that mortality.

“But, my argument would be it’s a man-made mortality.”

How mapping death locations could help the otters

Otters crossing signs remind drivers to keep an eye out. More can be done to protect the animals according to Richard Shucksmith.

Richard says that “with a little bit more careful thought and mapping”, we could make a difference and reduce the number of otters being killed on Shetland’s roads.

He continued: “You could map out areas that are getting regular road kill of otters during winter, and maybe there’s an argument for improving the roads there by putting in an underpass, or an otter tunnel so they can actually move under the road, instead of over it.

“What we should be doing in Shetland and probably all over is identifying areas of constant road kill, and looking at how we can improve the road management in that area.

An otter enjoying its tea.

“And I don’t mean managing the traffic, I mean putting things in like an overpass or an underpass, wildlife corridors to allow wildlife to move.”

What are some of the reasons behind the increase in deaths?

The Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary works to help save injured otters and seals all across Shetland.

They said this past weekend in particular has been “dreadful” for otter road deaths, and that they had collected six dead otters “over the past few months”.

Luna, an otter which was taken into the care of Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary.

Although there is no one factor leading to the otters getting hit by more cars recently, the charity identified a number of potential causes.

The sanctuary said: “Certain sections of road seem to be particularly bad, around Girlsta, Voe and Dales Lees.

“Otters are wandering further at this time of year with food in short supply, and when twilight time coincides with rush hour, it is especially treacherous for them.

“Please spread the word for drivers to slow down, and keep an eye out for wildlife on our roads.”

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