The first video footage of a wild otter in West Sussex has emerged, caught on a wildlife camera.
A member of the public contacted the project after spotting what they thought to be otter tracks on a river bank.
Days later, a wildlife camera installed by the Arun and Rother Connections (ARC) project partners recorded the unmistakable footage.
The filming location will be kept a closely guarded secret, to allow the otter to establish a territory and search for a mate.
Otters were once widespread in Sussex and the rest of the UK, but from the 1960s they became extinct in many parts of the UK due to habitat loss, pollution and persecution.
Thanks to conservation efforts to improve water quality and habitats they are slowly re-populating the countryside of their own accord.
The ARC project is a partnership between organisations who have been working to improve West Sussex habitats, with the help of over 1,100 volunteers.
As part of the landscape scale conservation project, more than 2.6km of internationally rare chalk streams were restored, providing the perfect habitat for otter, trout and water vole.
Alan Johnson, RSPB Regional Conservation Manager said: “This is really exciting news for Sussex and highlights how successful conservation intervention can be. Otters are a flagship species, at the top of the wetland food chain. We know that if otters are healthy, then the species in the food chain below them are also healthy.
“Through bringing together expertise from several organisations, the ARC project has been able to improve the local waterways and encourage native species such as otter, water vole, eel, rare birds and insects to re-colonise the area.”
Sussex is one of the last UK counties to see wild otters return following the population decline, and sightings have been few and far between, with the last verified live sighting in Sussex reported more than five years ago.
Wildlife cameras, supplied by the Heritage Lottery fund as part of the ARC project and South Downs National Park, have already been used to help school children and community groups get closer to the nature on their doorstep, capturing footage of badgers and foxes in community green spaces.
Dr Tony Whitbread, Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, added “This is great news for Sussex, for years conservation groups have been working to improve Sussex habitats for otters, and this is the most encouraging sighting we have had to date. We look forward to monitoring this territory, and hope to see the otter find a mate.”
If you think you have seen signs of an otter in Sussex you can contact the Sussex Mammal Group or Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre.