Norfolk village’s special otter family

It's a peaceful Broadland village where the steady pursuits of fishing and sailing would normally be expected to provide the pinnacle of excitement.

However, families in South Walsham, near Acle, have recently become drawn together by a passionate interest in the village's newest VIP residents – a family of otters.

After her first fleeting glimpse of an otter from her home in the spring of 2009, retired journalist Mundy Ellis resolved to keep a diary of future sightings.

And since her journal –Otter Watch – was posted on the village website last summer, its number of hits has rocketed from 800 to more than 4,000 a month.

Mundy, 63, who retired to Fleet Lane, South Walsham with her husband, Bernard Barnett, 68, in 2006, has now found neighbours eager to help her in her quest, sharing their own sightings and detective work, such as discoveries of half-eaten fish or spraint [otter droppings].

'Recently, one of our neighbours urgently texted me at 7.30am to tell me an otter was walking up our drive. It's become a passion that has captivated all age groups and the number of sightings, involving 29 individuals, now stands at 60,' she said.

'It's amazing to see such a large wild mammal, as big as a reasonable-sized dog, just a few feet away from you.

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'They are beautiful, interesting animals and rather mysterious.'

Since that first sighting – 'a single otter swimming across the frontage from the north-east near the derelict boathouse southwards towards the island' – the story has moved on apace with the drama of a soap opera.

A sighting of otters possibly mating in the summer of 2009 led to the long-awaited and exciting observation of two cubs in February last year.

Her diary of February 23 reports: 'Three otters! At about 8.15am the three were swimming close together in perfect formation across our frontage.'

Four days later, Mundy wrote: 'Face to face! I saw ripples coming from our boathouse cut and went quietly to investigate.

'Heard lots of sploshing around in BH then saw a little face emerge a few feet away under the roller door. I think it may have been a young one as its face was pure minky brown, not grizzled, with very black eyes.'

In May, her neighbours Richard and Lara Thain report how they were thinking about setting up a video camera to watch the otters play in the wet boathouse under their house.

'In the end, we did not need to as the cubs are so very friendly that they play happily even when being watched. A lot of frollicking about and sometimes our deckchairs end up in the water.'

In November, the drama took a sad twist when Bernard, a retired editor and advertising executive, and a neighbour made independent sightings of an otter with a head injury, possibly caused by a boat propellor. However, hopes of a happy ending came from a further sighting by a neighbour who reported: 'It surprised me as it entered the water. It seemed quite happy and fed on at least five fish that afternoon.'

The most recent otter sighting came on December 23 when Mundy glimpsed one 30ft from her window on wooden piling under a willow tree.

She writes: 'Today's otter was a similar size to the injured one in roughly the same crouched position.

'Of course, I'd like to think it is the same otter now recovered, but that's impossible to say for sure.'

Peter Crook, vice-chairman of the parish council, said: 'The amount of hits on the village website shows the interest in Otter Watch.

'When I moved to Norfolk in 1970, otters were nearly extinct and it is great they are making a comeback.It is superb for South Walsham as we want to promote the village in the interest of the shop and pub.'

To check out the latest sightings, log on to www.southwalshamvillage.org/otter-watchorg/otter-watch

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