Otters well and truly back on the river

Otters well and truly back on the river
October 9, 2013 Adrian Walters

Autumn day are now advancing but this time of year can still provide many warm and sunny afternoons for enjoying walks across the riverside pastures. It is always worth keeping a sharp eye out for the unusual and through the late summer and early autumn there have been a number of sightings of otters in the various channels on the riverside. Those fortunate enough to see them can count themselves lucky as otters are still generally wary. As numbers continue to build they will become less shy and easier to observe.

Interestingly details from an October 1913 edition of this paper included a report that the Eastern Counties Otter hounds had recorded their fortieth kill of the season when they hunted an otter downstream from Ladies Island below Friars Meadow.

Through the 1960s, however, the use of organochlorine pesticides dealt a far more devastating blow to the East Anglian otter population than any otter hound pack and it did not take long for accumulations of these pesticides in river otters coupled with loss of habitat through river engineering projects to wipe out this mammal completely. In Sudbury the 1950s flood alleviation scheme doubtless removed much of the suitable habitat that was previously provided by the lazy meanderings of the river.

Following a now terminated programme of reintroduction in this region, otter numbers are now increasing naturally to the extent that, in recent years, they could be seen on our riverside once again. This is good news but of course they should never have disappeared in the first place.

Fluctuations or declines in other species are continuously flagged up and it is rather too easy to assume that there is no hope for our wildlife. Whilst pressure continues to mount as the demands of the human population rapidly increase there is also much going on to try and support our beleaguered wildlife.

Often there are inspiring stories of how ‘lost’ wildlife has made a come-back. On our own riverside perhaps one of the pleasing successes was the natural return of the water vole as a result of a co-ordinated mink control programme. As predatory mink numbers declined vole numbers increased so that they can now be found in the ditches and ponds that were restored for the benefit of a range of wildlife on the grazing pastures.