Earlier this week a family of otters ransacked my garden. I only know this because they left behind an inordinate amount of dung, mostly in the porch, making my house look like the target of an over-enthusiastic hate mailer. The Suffolk locals tell me not to worry. They proffer that otter faeces, or spraint as they called it, smells of camomile. Reassuring stuff as I wait for the next bombardment, and something that I might already know if I had read Sam Garton’s I am Otter.
It is difficult to believe that the jet black otter smile emits an odour similar to that of a soporific herbal tea. Almost as hard to believe as R.C. Holmes’ book, Birds of the London Area since 1900; according to Holmes, the sprawling metropolis of London is teeming with peregrine falcons, harris hawks and herons. Even the otters are here, presumably defacing expensive riverside properties.
London is returning to the chaotic bestiary it once was. Philip Hoare describes a few of the animals which once roamed the city in his latest book, The Sea Inside. In the Georgian era flocks of ravens picked at the refuse filled streets. Their numbers were swelled by the then ubiquitous Red Kite, known simply as the Shite Hawk due to its predilection for human rubbish. Hoare tells stories of the great whales which regularly swam up the Thames such as the thirty foot long killer whale that made it as far as Deptford before being harpooned.
Otter emanations aside, we should welcome the return of these beasts to London and what better way to prepare for their arrival than reserving a copy of the upcoming book in the New Naturalist series: Nature in Towns and Cities?
Words by Jamie Curtis Hayward