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Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has on the threatened extinction of the otter.

A major national otter survey, covering 8,606 sites in England, Scotland and Wales, was carried out in 1977–79, and repeated in 1984–86. The repeat survey showed a higher percentage of sites with otters present, indicating likely population recovery in particular in Wales, Scotland and the south-west, north-west and Welsh borders of England. Between the two surveys, legal protection for the otter was introduced and the use of organochlorine insecticide was reduced. These two positive factors seem likely to have contributed to the apparent recovery in distribution.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what research is available to him on the damage caused to otters' wombs by polychlorinated biphenyls.

I am not aware of any study which directly links exposure to PCBs to damage to otters' wombs. However, several studies have been reported which may be indirectly related to the effects of PCBs on the reproductive performance of otters. These are reviewed in a draft environmental health criteria document which will be published by the International Programme on Chemical Safety. The relevant section of the draft has been prepared by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (NERC) under contract to my Department and as part of the United Kingdom contribution to the international programme.