A FASCINATING moment capturing a mother otter with her two cubs has proven that the animals are breeding on Hampshire's River Meon.

It comes after volunteer ranger Dave Strutt caught footage of the otter family on the river bed through a wildlife camera.

The mother, with gleaming bright eyes, is seen climbing onto a raft – a device used to monitor river-dwelling species - when two curious cubs are seen following in her tracks before the trio glide back into the water.

Although it was believed that they were locally extinct until a few years ago, national park authority South Downs say that the video provides evidence that reductions in river pollution are allowing the mammals to “thrive”.

Dave said: “We have a few of these wildlife cameras dotted around the Meon Valley and we sometimes see foxes, badgers, deer and hare.

“To see an otter is incredibly rare – let alone a mum and her two cubs. After watching hours and hours of waving leaves and reeds, it was a delightful moment to see this otter family appear on the screen. It’s a rare treat for any nature lover.”

After tottering on the brink of local extinction, otters have bounced back due to less river pollution, which was a historic issue caused by factors such as intensive agriculture.

The Meon Valley Partnership, which includes the SDNPA and other partners, has worked with landowners to help restore river banks and generally improve the health of the river.

Elaina Whittaker-Slark, who works from the SDNPA’s base near Hambledon, and is Lead Ranger for the Western Downs, said: “The otter was once very widespread across Britain and was as much a part of the native fauna as badgers and hares. The footage of a mother and her two cubs underlines the tremendous work that has been done over the past decade by landowners and the Partnership to improve the health of the River Meon.”

“Although a short clip, this video provides a fascinating insight into otter behaviour. We can see the mother checking her territory and the cubs following her. There’s a very close bond between the cubs and the mother, who raises them without the male.

“We would normally see adult otters ‘spraint’ the raft if they go on it – basically it’s a form of faecal scenting. In this case, the female doesn’t spraint. This is because she doesn’t want to attract attention – and potential competition – from other otters, particularly males who might threaten the cubs.”

Three breeding female otters are now believed to be on the River Meon.