It’s been a good week for Ipswich’s animal lovers as an otter was spotted hunting amid the duckweed-covered water in Holywells Park, which is a designated County Wildlife Site. These charismatic but seldom-seen mammals are most active at dawn, dusk and after dark, so it must have been a real treat for local wildlife enthusiast Matthew Garmin to spend time snapping and filming it as it swam and dived by daylight – especially in such an unusually urban location.
An otter (European otter) has been spotted at Holywells Park, Ipswich! 🦦
The elusive otter is one of our top predators, feeding mainly on fish, waterbirds, amphibians and crustaceans. These mammales are rare in Suffolk, so it’s always so exciting to see them!
📷Matthew Garmin pic.twitter.com/0c8dwD7VyV
— SuffolkWildlifeTrust (@suffolkwildlife) January 10, 2024
In the 20th century Britain’s otters were brought to the brink of extinction by a combination of legal hunting, illegal persecution, increasing traffic speeds and car numbers, and the widespread chemical pollution of waterways which wiped out many of the fish and other aquatic creatures they eat. Otter hunting was at last banned in 1981 and following water privatisation, EU laws led to the clean-up of UK rivers, after which fish returned – and otters slowly but steadily bounced back. They are now found on every river catchment in the country.
However, these clever, graceful mustelids remain vulnerable. Numbers of eels, once common across East Anglia, have plummeted in many places by 90%, and sewage discharges further threaten fish numbers; a recent study found that water firms, including Anglian Water, dumped sewage over 650 times in otter habitats last year, lasting for a total of 2,546 hours. Sadly, despite being protected by law otters are also ruffling the feathers of some commercial and garden pond-owners: in a healthy ecosystem, our rivers would be biodiverse enough to support good numbers of otters without them needing to visit gardens or angling lakes, but scarcity of fish – an issue we need urgently to reverse – can bring them into conflict with human pursuits.
The Holywells Park otter is extremely unlikely to actually live there. Otters travel very widely both in water and across land, and can have huge home ranges, particularly males; and food scarcity – which can happen during and after flood events – can drive them to make forays into urban areas in the hopes of finding a meal. This one caught and ate a good meal of roach, a common fish that does well in the kind of slow-flowing waterways we have in flat East Anglia: proof of how important it is to create healthy habitats, even in towns and cities. If you build it – and conserve it – the wildlife really will come.
Ipswich IP3 0PG
Holywells Park is a 67-acre public park in Ipswich, England situated between Nacton Road and Cliff Lane, near to the Ipswich Waterfront.