WILD otters living on the River Wear have been captured on camera for the very first time.
Filmed by WWT Washington Wetland Centre using a motion sensor camera on loan from Durham Wildlife Trust, the night-time footage shows an inquisitive otter exploring its territory and grooming itself, before a noisy spat breaks out with another otter.
The camera was set up over a period of a few weeks in late autumn as part of a project to monitor otter populations in the region. It also recorded two passing foxes, a jay seemingly searching for its buried acorns and a male pheasant followed by a parade of females.
WWT Washington’s reserve manager John Gowland said: “We knew we had wild otters living on the River Wear beneath our site, which is a great indicator of how clean and healthy this stretch of river now is.
“There have been various sightings over the last three years and more recently, tracks have been appearing down at our new saline lagoon habitat.
“When we installed the camera, we hoped that we might capture some fleeting glimpses at best, so to have such great footage of not one, but two otters is just fantastic.”
The camera was installed at the southern end of WWT Washington’s reserve, near the River Wear corridor and within the boundaries of the new saline lagoon, which is due to open next year.
Careful monitoring of the habitat has revealed it is attracting an array of new wildlife to the area, including roe deer, wading birds, common terns and otters, which are using the site as a thoroughfare between a mature river reedbed and the new lagoon – dubbed the “otter highway” by the wardens.
The camera was loaned to WWT Washington as part of an ongoing project to boost wild otter populations in the region.
Vivien Kent, otter project officer with Durham Wildlife Trust, said: “The Durham Biodiversity Action Plan Otter Project works to improve and restore habitat for otters across the Durham Biodiversity Partnership area in partnership with several councils, the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water. The work includes the installation of artificial holts, the creation of reedbeds and the improvement of river channels to facilitate the recolonisation by otters of rivers across the area.
“The project has been running for nearly three years and has installed over 30 artificial holts to date.”