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Common animal tracks (from BASC Code of Practice)
common animal tracks
Otters at Topsham Bridge on the Devonshire River Avon described by Elaine Hurrell in 1963

In her delightful book "Watch for the Otter", Elaine Hurrell described studies carried out by her family and their friends on the otter population of the Avon in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Topsham Bridge provided more evidence of otter activity than any other place on the river.

The map on the right contains an enlarged section showing some of the main landmarks and signs of otter activity around Topsham Bridge.

Direct and indirect recording techniques were used:
  • traces of 'spraint' (otter droppings) were noted
  • otter 'seals' (footprints or tracks) were noted
  • 'hovers' (temporary resting places) were recorded
  • teams of observers recorded sightings and sounds of otters during extended vigils throughout the night
  • three mechanical devices that automatically recorded when an otter brushed past were deposited in the vicinity of Topsham Bridge. One device was placed at the mouth of Upper Brook, another on Yeo Brook and the third measurement point was just downstream of Topsham Bridge (see map below)
Hurrell found that - in low water conditions on an August afternoon - between Topsham Bridge and the Lower Railway (a distance of about 1/3rd mile) Bridge "many of the bigger boulders were showing well above the water, and a large proportion of them showed some spraint".

Some of the places where otter tracks (seals) and a temporary resting place (hover) were found are shown on the enlarged section of the map.

Looking downstream from Topsham Bridge
Topsham Bridge
Upper railway bridge above Topsham Bridge
First railway bridge above Topsham Bridge
Junction of Upper Brook with River Avon showing tracks in sand
and skinned salmonid found nearby
Junction of Upper Brook and River Avonsalmon skin

Elaine Hurrell believes that the majority of contacts recorded by her mechanical devices were made by otters rather than other passing animals or birds. Recordings made continuously from 12th September 1960  to 20th August 1961 suggest that otters are essentially nocturnal at this location. Activity commenced just after sunset and continued throughout the hours of darkness. Hurrell observed otters visiting their sprainting places shortly after beginning their period of nocturnal activity. She believes this behaviour refreshes the olfactory signals otters use to mark out their territories.

References and resources:
detailed map of Topsham Bridge area
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