Otter on river bank by Keith Burtonwood
Otters' Home Sweet Home
Numbers are up but not enough of these shy and beautiful creatures are settling down in the mid-Fens. So over the next three years 33 holts will be built across the area to help them start families.
It's all thanks to the Middle Level Commissioners which has just launched a three year Otter Recovery Project. It will build 33 otter holts and 15 other habitat areas throughout the 120 miles of waterways it manages. The Commissioners' patch stretches from Sawtry up to St Germans in Norfolk, which gives the otters plenty of space to colonise.
Trial otter holt by Cliff Carson
Otters were hunted in England for centuries and until the 1950s they were common in Fenland waterways. Changes in farming practices after the Second World War saw their numbers plummet. In the late 1970s they became a protected species and, according to the Wildlife Trust, just 15 years ago they were practically extinct in Cambridgeshire.
But things are looking up for this graceful and shy animal. While numbers are on the increase across the county, the 2007 Cambridgeshire Otter Survey revealed they are largely absent from the middle of the fens. The 33 holts should provide them with just the "des res" they need to boost their population.
And if you're a bit confused about why the Middle Level Commissioners is involved, it's one of the organisations which helps to keep the Fens above water. The Middle Level is the largest section of the Great Level of the Fens and it goes back to the mid-17th Century when drainage began in Cambridgeshire.
With funding from the SITA Trust and wildlife organisations, the Commissioners will work with the Environment Agency to prevent the use of illegal nets and traps which can drown otters. Bridge owners will be encouraged to improve access for otters, providing ledges for them to use.
Over the next three years, the north Fens should provide the perfect home for these largely nocturnal animals. As Cliff Carson, Environmental Officer at the Middle Level Commissioners, says: "The chances of a lucky person catching a glimpse of this exciting animal are increased."
last updated: 05/12/07
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