There have been a few stories in the local press of late about the otters now re-established on our local rivers. These stories have centred on the loss of koi carp and other ‘ornamental’ fish from unprotected ponds in gardens that back onto the river. In each case, the owners’ anger is clearly voiced and directed towards the perceived villain of the piece, a marauding otter. One couple even went so far as to drain their pond and then blame the otter for the resulting loss of wildlife. Interestingly, since introduced fish have been shown to lower the wildlife value of a pond, the best thing to have done would have been to have left the pond fish-free and to watch the levels of invertebrate and amphibian diversity increase.
My reaction to such stories is one of frustration; how can people seek to place the blame elsewhere simply because they fail to understand that nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’? If you stock a small pond, lacking in cover, with lots of fish then of course it is going to prove attractive to a passing predator. If you are going to keep exotic fish in such an artificial manner, then the fault lies with you and you only have yourself to blame.
Such stories underline one of the fundamental problems with human society in a wider context, namely that everything has to be about us. We find it incredibly difficult to accept that other creatures have an equal right to this planet and its resources. We take little interest in how our activities impact on other species but kick up a fuss when the boot ends up on the other foot. It is something of which we are all guilty, perhaps through the sprays we use on our vegetables to combat aphids and caterpillars, through to the intolerance of the wasps that nest in our roof spaces or the moss that seeks to grow within our lawns.
We need to engender a shift away from the narrow perspectives of our self-centred lifestyles and reconnect with the natural world in ways that ensure deeper, more long-lasting and respectful bonds. This is not going to be easy. Even our nature reserves – where much of our current connection with nature takes place – are flawed by the underlying sense that they are the only place where nature is allowed and that the nature to be found elsewhere is either fair game, in the wrong place or on the run.
Fortunately, the anger of the few that is directed at our otters is balanced by the positive engagement that others feel when they see these stunning creatures take back ownership of the rivers and ponds.