Otter Trust to stay

The headquarters of the Otter Trust will stay in Norfolk, even though it is closing to the public.

The headquarters of the Otter Trust will stay in Norfolk, even though it is closing to the public.

And the trust - full name the Otter and Wilderness Trust - says it still has plenty of work to do, despite having achieved its main aim.

As yesterday's EDP reported, the centre at Earsham, near Bungay, has closed for the season and will not reopen.

Since the Otter Trust was set up by Norfolk conservationist Philip Wayre 35 years ago it has released 117 otters into the wild, as far apart as Dorset, Hampshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Rutland. When it started there were only 100 otters left in England, and perhaps 20 in Norfolk and Suffolk. Now there are thought to be 200 in Norfolk, a similar number in Suffolk and thousands across the country - though there are no precise ways of counting otters.

Much of this is due to the Otter Trust's captive breeding and reintroduction work, though a ban on DDT and similar pesticides and work from the Environment Agency to clean up rivers have also been important.

The trust bought the site in Earsham in 1975, and the following year started opening to the public to help cover the costs of the breeding programme. It went so well that otter reintroductions stopped in East Anglia ten years ago, though the very last releases were on the Thames in 1999.

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Since then the numbers of otters kept in Earsham have been dropping, and this year there are just eight, all too elderly to breed, which would have died within the next few years anyway.

Mr Wayre said: "It is self-destructive. If you are very successful at breeding otters and releasing them then there is no need to do it any more.

"This particular enterprise has always run at a loss. We have kept it going largely through donations and bequests. I feel if people are giving money for otter conservation, is it right to spend it on keeping a tourist attraction open?"

Mr Wayre, like his otters, is getting on in years. He is 85, while his wife Jeanne, who has played an important role in running the Earsham visitor centre, is 79. But both are still active and will continue to work for the trust - seven days a week, in Mr Wayre's case.

Members will still be able to visit the reserve on appointment to see the bird life. The trust also has four other wetland reserves, Swangey Fen, near Attleborough, Stanley Carrs, near Beccles, and two in County Durham.

Mr Wayre said: "I hope the trust will be keeping a sharp eye on otter populations, and if there is an sign of a crash the trust will take whatever action is necessary."

A new family of otters has just arrived at the Norfolk Wildlife Centre, set up by Mr Wayre in 1963. The two otter puppies and their parents arrived with another two otters at the Great Witchingham site over the weekend. The Asian shortclaw otters have come from a private collector and are on show in a purpose-built enclosure at the centre.