Sculptor Laurence Broderick saw his first wild otter (Lutra Lutra) when visiting the Isle of Skye with his young family in 1979. It was just off the Island of Ornsay, once owned by Gavin Maxwell, who was a Scottish naturalist and author, best known for his work with otters.
Gavin Maxwell wrote the book Ring of Bright Water about how he brought a smooth-coated otter, named Mijbil, back from Iraq and raised it in Scotland. Ring of Bright Water was made into a movie starring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna. This prompted Laurence to visit Sandaig, which Maxwell called Camusfeàrna in his books, a small community opposite Eilean Iarmain, on a remote part of the Scottish mainland. This was Maxwell’s home when he wrote about life with his otters, ‘Edal, Teko, Mossy, and Monday’. Maxwell later moved to the lighthouse cottage of Eilean Bàn (White Island), a small island situated between Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye and Kyle of Lochalsh on mainland Scotland.The island is now a nature sanctuary and has a museum dedicated to Maxwell. In Kyleakin is the ‘Bright Water Visitor Centre’ with a Broderick bronze otter sculpture ‘Teko’ mounted on a rock outside. Fascinated by these playful creatures, Laurence learned that they were, at the time, an endangered species. He launched a campaign to raise awareness and funds for the plight of otters and is now joint president of the global charity, the International Otter Survival Fund.
The Isle of Skye became Laurence’s second home and he held annual sculpture exhibitions at Eileen Iarmain for 26 years. He now divides his time between studios on the Isle of Skye and near Cambridge, where he continues to carve otter sculptures in stone and also model them in clay for casting into bronze. Over 2000 of his sculptures are now in art galleries and collections worldwide. He has recently completed a large bronze otter fountain commission for the grounds of Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
Otter-like animals have inhabited the earth for the last 30 million years and over the years have undergone subtle changes to their carnivore bodies to exploit the rich aquatic environment. The Eurasian otter has an acute sense of sight, smell and hearing. The eyes are placed high on the head so that it can see when the rest of the body is below water.
Scotland (and in particular its northern and western coasts) is a stronghold for the Eurasian otter. While numbers declined across Britain as a result of persecution and pollution in the mid 20th Century, the Highlands and Islands retained a relatively healthy population and remain prime otter-watching territory. Spotting these shy creatures usually requires luck or patience, and definitely stillness and silence. Look out for signs (such as droppings, known as spraint, or webbed footprints in the sand) and keep a close eye on still water in the early morning or evening.
A new investigation into the state of Scotland's otter population shows its recovery is now effectively complete following serious declines in central and south-eastern areas in the 1960's and 1970's, Scottish Natural Heritage confirmed. The survey, which focused on 1376 sample sites across the country, discovered positive traces of otter populations at 1267 locations (92.08%). The two-year investigation has confirmed the animal is now thriving over the whole of Scotland in both coastal and freshwater sites. There are now believed to be around 8,000 otters spread across virtually every part of Scotland, including water courses in Aberdeen and the River Clyde.In particular, all of Scotland's large urban areas now show signs of otters. in these areas, improvements in water quality have helped create sustainable habitats for otters through increasingly healthy fish stocks and more varied biodiversity. And the SNH report concludes the otter can now be considered ubiquitous throughout Scotland - even in urban watercourses highly disturbed by human activity.