It has been a long and perilous journey, but otters have finally managed to swim back from the brink of extinction and into every county in England.
Two otters have been spotted building their holts on the banks of the rivers Medway and Eden in Kent, delighting conservationists who had previously predicted they would not return to the county for another 10 years.
"The fact that otters are now returning to Kent is the final piece in the jigsaw for otter recovery in England and is a symbol of great success for everybody involved in otter conservation," said Alastair Driver, the national conservation manager for the Environment Agency.
Otters have reappeared in places where they have not been seen since the industrial revolution, including Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester, and even on the Thames and the Lea in north London. A recent survey on the river Ribble, in Lancashire, showed a 44% increase in otter numbers since 2008.
The Kentish otters herald a remarkable – if slow – renaissance for the sleek, fish-devouring member of the mustelid family, which declined by 95% of its range in western Europe during the 20th century.
In England the otter disappeared dramatically between the 1950s and 1970s because of persecution and pesticides washing into waterways.
After otter hunting was belatedly banned in Britain in 1978, numbers began to increase – particularly following the withdrawal of organochlorine chemicals and a more general improvement in water quality, leading to more fish in rivers and lakes.