Otter paradise as volunteers create ‘grand designs’ home

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OTTERS have a chance of a bespoke home near river Hull after volunteers put in 600 hours to create a wildlife “grand design”.

With underfloor drainage to help them dry off, insulation and a ventilation shaft, as well as two private entrances, visitors should be able to sneak a view of the creatures from a nearby hide via an infra-red camera link.

The holt should be one of a number of temporary stopping off places or “hunting lodges” used by Tophill Low Nature Reserve’s resident male otter, or one of the two females who haunt the area.

The sexes only get together at mating times and the male otter - who the reserve’s warden Richard Hampshire describes as a “half-blind scrapper” - will even kill its own cubs because they are seen as competition.

Mr Hampshire said otters had been in East Yorkshire since glacial times, 10,000 years ago - and “are genetically closer to East Yorkshire than its human population.”

Unlike other places the otters never died out in East Yorkshire Mr Hampshire said: “Even in the 1970s in the worst times of agricultural pesticides and industrial pollutants otter spraints were still found under Wansford Bridge.”

Their population is now the strongest it has been since the 1950s and otters have been found in the middle of Beverley and as far as Lund. They can swim across the Humber and they have been seen swimming in the sea off Fraisthorpe.

But their increasing numbers have also seen them straying from their traditional riverside territory.

When people ring and complain that otters - usually young otters who have to leave their father’s territory - are taking fish out of ponds, Mr Hampshire reminds them that the fish are Chinese koi carp, swimming around in plastic-lined ponds and have been fed on pellets made from thousands of sand eels fished out of the north Sea.

Visitors will be able to see whichever otter makes its home in the new holt from a screen in the North Marsh hide, 75 metres away.

Tophill Low Nature Reserve is located four miles from the A164 at Watton and is open daily from 9am to 6pm. Admission is £3.30 for adults and £1.50 for concessions.

The trust is running a number of otter watches, starting on May 16. For more information and events bookings ring 01377 270690 or visit www.tophilllow.blogspot.com.