The number of otters at a city wildlife park are set to rise thanks to support from a new bridge project.
WWT Washington Wetland Centre has been able to install three new otter holts close to its boundary along the River Wear, where it hopes wild otters will take refuge and breed in the months and years ahead.
Sunderland City Council agreed to fund the new otter holts as compensation for any loss of wildlife habitat along the River Wear in Sunderland during the construction of the city’s new bridge project.
WWT Washington’s Reserve Manager John Gowland said the holts had been installed around the perimeter of the park’s saline lagoon, which is connected to the River Wear, and evidence showed they were already in use.
He said: “We have had small pockets of wild otters at the centre for some time, but we have been keen to enhance the surroundings to accommodate more as they are very territorial, so would not come and stay unless living conditions were right for them.
"It’s a perfect location here because it’s a safe haven, right beside the river, so we knew that if we engineered some otter holts into the banks around the lagoon there was a good chance they would come.
“The funding from Sunderland City Council has been really beneficial. We’re very grateful to the New Wear Crossing team. We have already seen lots of additional otter prints in the vicinity, and you never know, over time visitors may get a greater opportunity for sightings as numbers increase. It’s looking really positive.”
The centre is currently building a new hide overlooking the lagoon, which has been funded through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other generous funders.
The hide will provide visitors with a perfect viewing platform to watch the wildlife around the lagoon, which was opened in 2013 as one of the UK’s rarest habitats. Its brackish nature – a mixture of fresh and sea water – provides the ideal salinity levels for a unique range of wetland species.
Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Paul Watson, said: "WWT Washington Wetland Centre is a fantastic facility, with tremendous ambitions to expand, so we are delighted to be able to contribute.
“We’re very lucky to have this wildlife haven on our doorstep, so it’s only right that we do everything we can to invest in its future. I will be watching with interest to see if the otter population swells over time.”
Work on the New Wear Crossing project began in May this year. It will cross the River Wear between Wessington Way and European Way and will be the first bridge to be built in the city for more than 40 years.