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Shetland otters: The tale of a draatsi family

by Brydon Thomason -

Shetland wildlife expert and nature guide Brydon Thomason shares his experience of making a film on Shetland otters.

From our marine life to our moorland, we are blessed with an amazing diversity of wildlife in Shetland that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world every year. Amongst the growing number of visitors, media interest from natural history production companies is also greater than ever, with the islands and their wildlife in constant demand. But there is one particular species that has featured more than any other - the 'draatsi'.

From the ground-breaking film Track of the Wild Otter by Hugh Miles nearly three decades ago, through to the modern day blue-chip wildlife films and documentaries, not to mention the regular features on prime-time broadcasts such as BBC's Springwatch, Countryfile and The One Show, our magnificent otters appear on screen dozens of times every year. And not just on British television, the draatsi is every bit as popular overseas too.

Nearly three years ago, Richard Shucksmith and I began our most exciting and enjoyable filming project yet, with French production company Saint Thomas Productions. Knowing that they had made numerous high-end films for French National Geographic (amongst many others), we knew this would be a great project.

As the film was commissioned by multiple overseas broadcasters, we were concerned that Shetlanders might not get the chance to see it. So we were delighted at how excited the production crew were when we asked if they could show the film at Mareel.

To us, this film stands out because it follows the real-life story of otters in Shetland throughout the year – showcasing the environment they live in and the species they share it with. This is a process we were heavily involved in from the outset, all the way through to the writing of the narrative. This meant a great deal to us as it let the otters' true story be told, rather than the story a producer or writer wanted to tell.

To further authenticate the story they even asked me to narrate the film, which, although unchartered territory for me, I was genuinely flattered to be asked and feel proud to be a Shetland voice on a Shetland film.

The production took two years to make, throughout which time we worked intense shoots of one to two weeks throughout the seasons. Some of the filming was done by just myself and Richard, with occasional assistance from Helen Perry.

The team at Saint Thomas were fantastic to work with. There are too many people involved to credit and mention here, but we wanted to especially thank Jacqueline Farmer, Cyril Barbercon and Oliver Larpin for being such a great team, and for not only respecting us and our knowledge of otters and their environment, but also embracing Shetland on all levels from the wildlife to the people. We hope this shows through the film and their excitement to share it with Shetlanders.

They, like us, put their hearts and souls into the project and are very proud of the film. In fact, they are even coming over from France to join us for the screening and for a Q&A session about the film afterwards. We hope you join us too!

Book your tickets for Sunday's premiere of Shetlands otters: The tale of a draatsi family on the Mareel website.

About Brydon Thomason

Naturalist, birder, photographer & otter addict. Owner and guide of Shetland Nature. Co-author of 'Otters in Shetland'.
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