Riverside homes by the side of the Wear are proving a success with their new tenants – otters.
Holts made from pipes, paving slabs and breeze blocks have been hidden away in secluded spots near to the saline lagoon at WWT Washington Wetland Centre, to offer the animals more locations to live and breed.
Now the team in charge of keeping a watch on progress have said they are beginning to reap its rewards, with evidence of increased numbers spotted on the banks.
Sunderland City Council agreed to fund the three holts at a cost of £400 each, as compensation for any loss of habitat during the construction of the city’s new bridge.
The rise in numbers of European otters – which are bigger than the Asian shortclaw species which live in an enclosure in the park – has also been put down to the improved water quality.
It is hoped a survey, due to be led along the region’s three major rivers by the Durham Wildlife Trust, will help give a better idea of numbers living in the region.
We can see from footprints there are babies, and if there’s a family with cubs, then that’s great if they are using the holts.John Gowland, reserve manager at WWT Washington
A new hide to be opened soon will also give visitors to the Washington park a greater chance of seeing them.
John Gowland, reserve manager, said: “Until the 1990s, on the banks of the River Wear there was a lot of shipbuilding, coal mining and chemical works, and these highly-polluting industries have now all gone, so the riverways are now a lot cleaner.
“A lot of the fish and invertebrate which had fed predators had gone and now they’re back, so now species such as the otter now have something to feed on again.
“The otters have been seen near the holts and we hope we’ve helped them.
“They are so elusive and they are often nocturnal, it’s very difficult to get a picture of how many there are.
“We can see from footprints there are babies, and if there’s a family with cubs, then that’s great if they are using the holts.
“People have seen family groups or a single otter, but when the new lagoon hide opens in the summer we hope there will be more potential to see them.”
Council leader Paul Watson said: “It’s wonderful to see the new otter holts already proving popular and having the desired effect of attracting additional otters, to live and breed along the River Wear.
“We were delighted to be able to contribute to the centre, as part of the wider project to build the New Wear Crossing, and will be following the success of the otter holts with interest.”