SIGHTINGS of the once elusive otter are increasing in Cumbria confirming that their numbers are on the increase, say experts.

Unusually a large male otter was spotted earlier this month lying dead by the side of the road between Ulverston and Swarthmoor.

It was found by David Harpley, Conservation Manager at Cumbria Wildlife Trust, who described it as a fully grown dog otter.

“They’re big animals and they do travel inland away from water a lot of the time and get into places like garden ponds, despite what people think,” he said.

Mr Harpley has been working with CWT on a project aimed at increasing otter numbers since the early 1990s when they were persecuted.

He said at the time it was thought they would occupy secluded areas, but it would appear they go where the most fish are, which turns out to be near people.

“They breed under the pier at Ambleside and people see them in the middle of Kendal and at the head of the Ulverston Canal,” he said..

“There have also been sightings at the South Walney Nature Reserve within the last few months, which is the last place in the county that doesn’t have otters.”.

Susan Milby, of the Aquarium of the Lakes, at Lakeside, near Newby Bridge, spotted an otter close to a pier on Windermere from work recently.

“I just saw one at the pier side, probably because boats weren’t operating as they were off land for a week for maintenance,” she said.

Neil Harnott, Senior Conservation Officer at CWT, said it would appear that otters are losing their fear of humans.

“It’s lovely that people can see otters and see them close up, but I wouldn’t want them to completely lose their fear of humans,” he said.

He added that although there have been a rise in sightings, they are no longer recorded because “they’re such a conservation success story.”