Otters have been spotted in a city centre river once considered one of the most polluted stretches of water in Europe.

River Don, Sheffield used to be the most polluted river in Europe.

River Don, Sheffield used to be the most polluted river in Europe. Image by Sheffield Tiger / CC BY 2.0

Now conservationists in Sheffield want to try to film the elusive creatures, which have been glimpsed living along the River Don in some of the busiest and noisiest parts of the city. The Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust (SRWT) said signs of otters have now been recorded along the whole stretch of the river from Middlewood in the north to the giant Meadowhall shopping centre, which was built next to the Don, and towards Rotherham. The trust said it was surprised to find that some of the strongest indications were recorded under well-used bridges that carry high volumes of traffic through the middle of the city.

Evidence of otter activity is further testament to the rebirth of the River Don over the last two decades. In the 1980s it was regarded as the most polluted river in Europe, due to pollution from heavy industry in Sheffield. It ran yellow in some parts of the city and was regarded as unable to sustain fish. Since then, a series of environmental initiatives, coupled with dramatic changes to the industrial landscape, have transformed the waterway.

Otters have been spotted in the River Don.

Otters have been spotted in the River Don. Image by Neil McIntosh / CC BY 2.0

The trust has launched its Otterly Amazing! appeal in a bid to raise £20,000 to restore the otters’ habitat and record their daily activity. This will build on SRWT’s Living Landscape project, which aims to establish a network of connected green spaces along Sheffield and Rotherham’s river corridors. Part of the money will be used to buy camera traps to record the comings and goings of the shy creatures, building up a picture of where they live and how they use the river.

Head of development Cathy Slater said: “Records on the activities of the Sheffield otters are slim and work to improve our knowledge of their daily life is vital to our understanding of these well-loved creatures and our ability to protect them and encourage their return.” She said: “We want to raise money so we can do more survey work to find out how otters are doing. We’ve installed some artificial otter holts in the past but we don’t yet know whether otters are using them because we can’t tell without disturbing them, so if we install some cameras they will hopefully show the hotspots where they are particularly active, and then we can share that with the people of Sheffield so they can find out more about these fantastic animals living on their doorstep. Finding out more will also help us with our work because we can target efforts to protect those specific areas.”

Mrs Slater said: “We’ve already got some habitat improvements planned along some of our sites in Sheffield, so we want some funding to improve wetland habitat that will hopefully help otters and other species. If we get enough funding then we want to train up volunteers to do survey work. If people think that they’ve seen an otter then it would be great if they reported it, though it can be difficult as mink are also on the riverside and they can look quite similar, so it’s easy for someone to confuse a mink with an otter.”

(Press Association)