Otter Trust closes to paying visitors

A Norfolk wildlife institution of has closed to the public for good. The Otter Trust's public centre at Earsham, near Bungay, which closed for the season in September, will not open to paying visitors in April for the first time in 30 years.

A Norfolk wildlife institution of has closed to the public for good.

The Otter Trust's public centre at Earsham, near Bungay, which closed for the season in September, will not open to paying visitors in April for the first time in 30 years.

Philip Wayre, founder and owner of the centre, said it was no longer needed because of the success of breeding and reintroduction programmes. But he added that he was still keen for people to enjoy the otters on the reserve, which would remain open to members of the trust.

Mr Wayre, who is 85, said there were several reasons for closing public access, which started in 1976. "Probably most important is the fact that it's no longer necessary, or indeed desirable, to keep British otters in captivity.

"The trust pioneered the idea of breeding a mammal of some size in captivity. People said it wouldn't work, but it was a great success and surprised everybody, including us," he said. "It was responsible for putting the otter back into lowland rivers in England.

"Now, quite a lot of our members say we have done a very good job and the otters have been released and are introduced successfully, so why are we keeping some in at Earsham? It's a very good question," added the naturalist. "I didn't set it up to become a zoo or a wildlife park."

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Mr Wayre said he did not want people to stop enjoying otters and would encourage anyone who loved watching them to join the trust.

"The Otter Trust will go on and hopefully go from strength to strength. It has five reserves, three in East Anglia, including Earsham, and that will remain open to members of the trust by appointment," he said.

The final reason for closing the centre to the public was the advancing age of the eight to 10 British otters still on view to the public this summer.

"If we didn't do anything, the few British otters left would die within the next five years," he said. "They are not breeding, they have the same lifespan as a dog, about eight to 13 years, and closing now is just doing what we would have done in the next five years anyway.

"We found very good homes for all of them," he added.

Mr Wayre has no plans to stop working with the public centre. He will make trips every month or so to help manage Otter Trust reserves in the north of England.