CENTRAL London's first ever wild otter has been found - a discovery which scientists say is as significant as the return of the salmon to the River Thames.

The body of one of the River Thames' most mysterious inhabitants was found on a riverbank last Friday.

Measuring 122cm and weighing 9.7kg, the male otter was found on The Highway, in Wapping, about a mile from the Tower Bridge.

Scientists believe the notoriously shy mammal had traveled to London down the River Lee.

They said that although otter numbers in the rivers surrounding London were still low compared to the rest of the country, this was evidence that the population was breeding and spreading.

Otters are known to live in the Upper Roding, but the nearest possible source of the London otter is the River Lee, therefore scientists believe this is the most likely journey taken by the webbed mammal.

Graeme Mclaren, EnvironmentAgency technical specialist in biodiversity, said the British otter population had grown since the Environment Agency and local wildlife trusts started to build otter holts and tree and shrub planting schemes to create sites where otters can hide and breed.

"It shows that a lot of hard work by the Environment Agency and conservation groups to create a better place for people and wildlife across the capital is paying off," Mr Mclaren said.

"The return of the otter to London is as significant as the earlier return of the salmon to the River Thames.

"The otter is very shy, and we believe there could be many more out there, swimming past Tower Bridge and across London."

There are 13 known species of otter in the world, but only the European otter can be found in the UK.

Otters can swim at speeds of 12km per hour underwater and can travel for up to 400m before surfacing for air.

If anyone finds a dead otter it should be reported to the Environment Agency on 08708 506506. This is because they need to be collected for post-mortem to determine whether any pollutants are present in the rivers.