Growing up in Skelmorlie in the Fifties and Sixties, my pals and I explored the moorland and hills behind the village and became familiar with nature that was, almost literally, on our doorstep.

We discovered hen harriers, red-throated divers, golden plovers — so typical of upland Scotland — plus an array of woodland species in the glens where oak, birch and rowan thrived in spots still free of the accursed rhododendron.

There were a few foxes, perhaps not so many as now, and some badgers if you knew where to look for them. But one species we never encountered by the burns and lochs was the otter.

I always harboured a longing to see otters, but never succeeded until a trip to Arran a couple of years ago.

I couldn’t believe my luck one evening while walking along a beach on the south of the island when one ran in front of me. I watched enthralled as it entered the sea and disappeared under the waves.

I have been back to the same spot several times now and have seen otters almost without fail. It’s best to look for them a short distance offshore where they dive in search of prey. Often they surface and haul themselves out on a rock to dine on a fish or crab.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) says the otter is now found on nearly every river in Scotland and the numbers are stable across Europe following concerted conservation efforts and through strict statutory protection.

However, commenting on the European State of Nature Report, the SWT points out that the outlook for other species is not good.

The report shows that much of Europe’s wildlife is in peril, with once common species, such as skylark, in rapid decline. The picture is reflected in Scottish species, where kestrel, curlew and song thrush have suffered a worrying population crash. By far the biggest pressure reported on species and habitats across Europe is from agriculture.

It says the otter’s recovery could be put at risk by the European Commission’s Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT).

REFIT is currently evaluating European laws which protect Europe’s threatened species.

The SWT is urging the public to help ‘Defend Nature’ by joining their campaign to prevent the weakening of these vital European laws. Go to: