Wildlife campaigners are appalled to discover that a dead otter found in Irthlingborough last year was shown to have been shot through the heart.
The otter, found very close to the Wildlife Trust’s Nene Wetlands nature reserve, was taken away last year to Cardiff University where otter post mortem examinations are conducted to monitor the health of the national otter population.
The results of the examination have just been released to the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (BCN).
They show that the adult male otter was shot at close range with a shotgun - a shot was retrieved from the otter’s heart and thorax.
Wildlife Trust BCN conservation director John Comont said: “Otters are amazing animals, they are coming back to our rivers after decades of decline.
“We’re shocked that anyone thinks it is acceptable to kill such a beautiful animal.
“Killing otters is illegal and immoral, and the death of even a single otter can have a major effect on a species that is still far below its natural population level.”
Otters are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and penalties for breaking the law can extend to unlimited fines or six months in prison.
They disappeared from much of the UK in the late 20th century, affected by widespread chemical pollution.
While work to clear up rivers, led by the Environment Agency and championed by fishing groups, has allowed otters to return to every county in England, numbers are still thought to be lower than they would be naturally.
Otter deaths are now most often reported as a result of being hit by cars, and conservation organisations and the Environment Agency work to ensure that otter passes are provided where they are needed under roads.
Last year an otter was also reported to have died in the Nene Wetlands reserve when it was caught in an illegal fishing trap.
Mr Comont said: “The police have been made aware of the incident, and we will be urging people to report any suspicious activity to the police, while making sure they stay safe.”
The Nene Wetlands nature reserve is managed by the Wildlife Trust and extends from Station Road, Irthlingborough, to Rushden Lakes, covering 270 hectares.