The otters of Henry’s Loch, near Quarff, are to be unsuspecting guinea pigs in an innovative scheme to reduce the number of the animals killed on surrounding roads.
The move comes after concerns were raised by concerned resident.
Rhiannon Jehu, a psychology student at the University of Highlands and Islands, read a Facebook post by a neighbour regarding the number of dead otters seen on the area’s roads over the years and decided to act.
“It really only started at the end of last year when I saw the Facebook post. I asked around online for ideas about what we could do to try and make it safer for otters in crossing the road.
“Through Facebook I found someone on Skye who had done research on otters and there were different interventions for making it safe for otters to cross.”
The topography and potential cost and disruption of creating a tunnel or wildlife corridor under the A970 was ruled out leaving just a couple of options, one being a reflector system.
There’s a bigger issue around road safety, for people and otters.
Ms Jehu explained the remaining solutions: “One is we can ask drivers to slow down, one is to ‘ask’ the otters to take care and that’s the one the reflectors do, it makes the otters get out of the way rather than the cars getting out of the way of the otters.
“It’s very hard for car drivers to slow down on the bend, it’s difficult so they hit the otter and the speed limit is quite high there. There has been a campaign in general to lower the speed limits around Quarff. Kids cross the roads in that area too. There’s a bigger issue around road safety, for people and otters.”
The system works by redirecting car headlight beams to otter eye level with the theory the bright lights will startle the otters and scare them away from the road.
Ms Jehu said: “It’s been tried in other places. It’s not ideal because the otters can get used to them, but it is worth a try. Hopefully it will work but it might not.”
Full story in next week’s Shetland Times.