Funding to encourage otters back to the fens

Decades ago delightful otters would grace the waterways of the fens, but over recent years their numbers have decreased at an alarming rate. Now a unique project has been launched, with the aim of encouraging otters back to the fens to live and breed.

Decades ago delightful otters would grace the waterways of the fens, but over recent years their numbers have decreased at an alarming rate.

Now a unique project has been launched, with the aim of encouraging otters back to the fens to live and breed.

The Middle Level Commissioners have received a £52,000 funding boost from the Sita Trust for their project which aims to make the area a regular breeding ground for otters.

The money for the three-year project will be used to construct a network of breeding and resting holts, or underground dens, and also the creation of small pockets of otter-friendly habitats along the 120 miles of the middle-level waterways.


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Experts said that, before the 1950s, otters lived contentedly on rivers in Fenland, but the numbers crashed nationally due to pollution in the waters.

Although the otters have now slowly started to return to other parts of the country, a recent survey found that they were still largely absent from the middle of the fens.

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But by creating breeding and resting habitats throughout the middle-level system, it is hoped the otters will be encouraged to stay in the fens again.

Cliff Carson, environmental officer for the middle level, said: "This is a brilliant boost for an important biodiversity action plan species.

"With their experience of working on and managing the Fenland waterways, the Middle Level Commissioners workforce is well placed to carry out this work.

"Although otters are nocturnal, when they return to breed on local rivers and drains, the chances of a lucky person catching a glimpse of this exciting animal are increased."

Ian Smith, clerk and chief executive for the middle level, added: "This is an exciting and important project, one of the largest of its kind to be undertaken by a drainage authority in the UK."

The Sita Trust provides funding through the Landfill Communities Fund, which provides money for community and environmental groups.

Additional support and funding has been offered by Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Biodiversity Partnership - a total of £61,000 has been donated.

Further surveys will be carried out and there will also be work by the Environment Agency to stop the use of illegal nets and traps along the rivers which can drown otters.

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