275 pages, no illustrations
Otters hold an almost unique place in the animal kingdom of the British Isles, being one of the very few creatures that give birth once every two years. They are the most secretive yet also the most popular mammals – they are found in every county but are so rarely seen that they have been raised to mythical status.
When Simon Cooper bought an abandoned water mill that straddles a small chalk stream in southern England, little did he know that he would come to share the mill with a family of wild otters. Yet move in they did, allowing him to begin to observe them, soon immersing himself in their daily routines and movements. He developed an extraordinarily close relationship with the family, which in turn gave him a unique insight into the life of these fascinating creatures.
Cooper interweaves the personal story of the female otter, Kuschta, with the natural history of the otter in the British Isles, only recently brought back from the brink of extinction through tireless conservation efforts. Following in the footsteps of Henry Williamson's classic 1920s tale Tarka the Otter, readers are taken on a journey through the calendar year, learning the most intimate detail of this most beautiful of British mammals. Cooper brings these beloved animals to life in all their wondrous complexity, revealing the previously hidden secrets of their lives in this beautifully told tale of the otter.
"[...] Simon Cooper's The Otters' Tale (William Collins) [...] combines a description of otter biology and the history of their persecution and recent recovery with the artistic recreation of a year in the life of a female otter, Kuschta, who lives by Cooper's watermill near Salisbury, UK. As Cooper imagines himself into the lives of Kuschta, her mate Mion, and her pups Willow, Wisp and Lutran, he sometimes gives away which descriptions are imagined, which intuited and which observed. More often than not, he beguiles the reader into suspending disbelief. There are shocking moments, a surprisingly intimate description of Kuschta and Mion's repeated couplings, and a rich portrayal of the natural world. Comparisons will be made with Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter and Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water, but The Otter's Tale offers something new, and ultimately optimistic."
– Matthew Cobb, New Scientist 3137, 5 August 2017
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Simon Cooper is one of the UK's leading chalkstream conservationists. He runs a company called Fishing Breaks, hosting courses and tours from April to October at Nether Wallop Mill, in the heart of Hampshire. A beautiful thatched cabin overlooking a gin-clear trout lake beckons to budding fishermen and nature enthusiasts.