OTTERS are making a comeback to rivers across Oxfordshire, a new survey has found.

All the county’s major rivers – including the Thames, Cherwell, Ock and Thame – now show evidence of otter activity.

Research by the Environment Agency also shows the animals have spread to the south and west of Oxfordshire in the past eight years.

Last night, the agency’s biodiversity specialist Graham Scholey said it was “brilliant news”.

He said: “There has certainly been a big change for the good in Oxfordshire.

“During the previous survey in 2002, otters were only found in the west and north of the county.

“But now all the major rivers have otter activity and we can chart the spread of them to the south and east, which is brilliant news.”

Mr Scholey said the increase was down to improved water quality.

He said: “It shows just how much pollution in Oxfordshire’s rivers, and those further afield, has improved.

“Otters are important animals and we should be doing everything we can to preserve them.”

The Environment Agency predicts the species will now fully recover across England in less than 20 years.

Otter populations have recovered thanks to a ban on harmful pesticide in the 1970s and increased legal protection, making it an offence to intentionally kill or harm the animal.

Paul Raven, head of conservation and ecology at the agency, said: “The otter is at the top of the food chain and, as such, is an important indicator of the health English rivers. The recovery of otters from near-extinction shows how far we’ve come in controlling pollution and improving water quality.

“But there is still work to be done, and we will continue to work with farmers, businesses and water companies to reduce pollution and improve water quality even further, to ensure the full recovery of the otter across the country.”

Department for Environemnt Food and Rural Affairs minister Richard Benyon said: “Although our rivers are the healthiest they have been for some time, there is always more that can be done to improve water quality and help wildlife return to our rivers.

“We will continue to work together to deal with pollution problems.”