Framing Nature: otter

May 16, 2020

The otter is a symbol of hope for conservationists. Once lost from much of Britain, it has bounced back.

Richard Allen’s latest illustration for Framing Nature – conservation and culture is of the otter.  I chose this as the subject for one of the book’s portrait essays because it is a symbol of hope in conservation. In the 1970s and 80s it was so rare and threatened that the possibility we would lose it from all but the wildest parts of Britain was very real.

Now it lives in every county, and is content in cities such as Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle and Leeds. For my book I watched otters on the river Tweed and on the Isle of Mull where they seemed physically to be an inseparable element of the water itself.  No wonder the word otter and the word water share the same ancient root.

Loch Scridain, Isle of Mull
Loch Scridain, Isle of Mull
photo by Laurence Rose

Loch Scridain can, like all lochs, present a gleaming, crisply outlined Kodachrome image one minute and a glowering impressionistic canvas the next. Early one June morning I sat at the shore, waiting in hope that an otter might swim by.  At five-twenty, one was suddenly there, about 150 yards offshore, swimming at the obsidian surface, at a slow, calm pace and leaving a silver-green wake about 15 yards long. It dived, reappeared a hundred yards farther east and after a minute or so had disappeared at the eastern shore.

Otter linocut by Richard Allen
Otter linocut by Richard Allen

Between sightings I watched the shifting of the loch’s colours and luminosities. It was easy, in the low-angled morning light, to tune out the landscape and to see only abstract shapes and watch their evolution. I could concentrate on imagining the otter somewhere under the skin of the loch, or out of sight among rocks. The wrack at the shore rose and fell and coiled with the breathing of the sea-loch. Its colours blended and unblended, deep, oily bronze and sun-touched copper. The same colours, belonging to the dawn slopes of Ben More and its spruces, were faithfully rendered by the brittle surface of the loch, then lost to a silent shatter at the touch of each passing breeze.… …Somewhere, the otter would be eddying and gyring, live-streaming the final moments of an eelpout.

Framing Nature – conservation and culture excerpt from chapter 8

Framing Nature: conservation and culture by Laurence Rose will be published in the autumn.  Pre-publication offer details will appear here later in the summer.  For review copies, trade and general enquiries, please get in touch here.

This post has been published to:

Browse by category