IT’S a worrying fact that the friendly-faced otter was on the brink of extinction as recently as the 1970s.

Widely-used pesticides polluted their waters and brought about a decline in the species to worrying levels.

But a ban on many of those chemicals allowed the creatures to flourish and they have returned to rivers across the country in recent years.

Now there’s great news for East Lancashire wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists with historic first sightings at Brockholes Nature Reserve in Samlesbury, plus many more along the River Ribble.

It has all been made possible by two important factors – firstly, excellent work on improving and preserving the otter’s natural habitat; secondly, there has been a huge effort in cleaning up the water.

Because the otter is at the top of the food chain, it is an important indicator of the health of our watercourses.

It shows how far we’ve come, with the hard work of organisations such as the Environment Agency and river groups, in controlling pollution and improving water quality.

Let’s hope the benefits of that work can be reaped in future years as the population continues to thrive.