December 6 2013 Latest news:
Andrew Fitchett, Reporter
Saturday, September 14, 2013
They came, they ate, they charmed our socks off.
The hunting, splashing, barking and playfulness of the otters at the Little Ouse in Thetford turned the peaceful area into a nature-lovers hotspot this summer.
Sightings of the wild Eurasian otters were made early in the year, and once word spread Thetford was soon abuzz with visitors eager to catch a glimpse of the confident creatures.
After the visitors came the cameras. BBC’s Springwatch made a splash with its feature on the animals, while a piece in the RSPB’s magazine brought even more attention on the town.
For a town like Thetford – better known for Dad’s Army and Thomas Paine – the otters’ visit brought a fresh environmental dimension to its tourism offer.
David Leech, senior research ecologist for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), said the otters impact had been noticeable.
“I think one of the best things is that people have been coming to Thetford to see wildlife.
“It’s not something people typically think of Thetford as having, so in terms of changing that view they have been important,” he said.
Mr Leech also said the otters’ presence – combined with the surprise showing of the black bellied dipper – showed the local habitat was in rude health.
“It’s a tick mark in terms of the habitat here because it proves that the river can support a lot of wildlife which shows the quality of the water and environment,” he said.
Tales of the otters’ exploits didn’t just bring in professional photographers, with intrigued spotters coming from all round the country.
Corinne Fulford, from Thetford Tourist Information Centre, said visitor numbers had surged after the otters took up residence.
“In the spring we were inundated with people from all over the place.
“There were professional and amateur photographers here and they have caught the public’s imagination,” she said.
But the otters haven’t been popular with everyone. Footage of the animals tearing apart fish and chicken soon appeared on Youtube.
And they made headlines in February after Alan and Linda Brown returned from holiday to find the otters had eaten 200 of their prized fish, worth £10,000.
Rachel Ellis, of Mill Lane, then lost £5,000 of fish to the protected animals.