VIDEO footage of two playful otters in a Hampshire river has shown the species could be bouncing back from extinction.

Rangers at the South Downs National Park found late night footage of the otters climbing on to a raft, which is used to monitor river-dwelling species.

The footage was filmed on the River Meon, a chalkstream flowing from the South Downs near East Meon and into the Solent, by the team's wildlife camera. European otters were common in the UK until the 1950s, but became rare in many parts of England by the 1980s due to river pollution and habitat loss.

The team now believe there are three breeding females on the River Meon, which comes after the Meon River Partnership has helped restore the population of otters.

Elaina Whittaker-Slark, who works from the SDNPA’s base in Droxford, said: "Seeing an otter, let alone two, is quite special so we were all really inspired when we saw this footage.

"It’s been an incredible turnaround for this charismatic creature when you consider no otters had been noted on the River Meon, even 10 years ago. The return of the species is an indicator that water quality has significantly improved in the region, due to river restoration and declining use of pesticides."

She added: "It’s fair to say otters love eels – it’s their favourite meal!

"Good river bank management, including helping to create a diverse range of vegetation, has helped to support healthy eel populations, and in turn, helped the otters."

Rangers now plan to install a wildlife camera on the River Rother, which rises north of Petersfield and flows towards Pulborough in West Sussex, this summer.

A spokesperson for the South Downs National Park said: "The film is a really good way for people to see the otters and not disturb them, especially as 20 years ago there were no otters in Hampshire and Sussex."

Four years ago a young male otter was captured on camera – the first sighting for 14 years – and it is hoped more otters will be recorded. Efforts are continuing to be made to improve the water quality on the Rother, which includes reducing pollution running off the surrounding land.