Lifeline for otters

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OTTERS are being given a lifeline at a farm in Coldham where The Co-operative Farms has set up a team of “Habitat Heroes” to help preserve the protected mammals, which are one of the UK’s most iconic species.

The Habitat Heroes project aims to identify where investments and adaptations can be made on six farms across the country, owned by The Co-operative Farms, to improve the habitats, feeding and breeding opportunities for endangered or protected species, including water voles, bats and red squirrels, helping to safeguard them for the future.

The first piece of work to be completed as part of Habitat Heroes was an artificial otter holt at the Coldham farm, built with the help of Cliff Carson, Environmental Officer for the Middle Level Commissioners, the drainage authority for the middle of the Fens, who found evidence of the animals around the farm’s riverbank, while working on the land.

The holt has been fitted with an “otter-cam”, which recently captured rare footage of an otter sheltering from the elements in an artificial holt. The same otter has returned on a number of occasions to familiarise itself with the new holt.

Cliff Carson says this suggests that otters could make it a more permanent home. He said: “The site at the Coldham farm is perfect for an otter holt as it is so secluded and it is now a key site in the network of holts we have created.

“The fact that The Co-operative has already gained rare footage of an otter in the holt is a great sign as it suggests they will be keen to make regular use of the site as they move around the river.

“I am really looking forward to seeing where we can take this project in the future, as there is so much enthusiasm for protecting this species, both on the Coldham farm and across The Co-operative farming business in general.”

Coldham Farm Manager, Russell Armstrong, is very excited about the otter project and says protecting the environment and wildlife on the land it farms is very important to The Co-operative: “As Britain’s largest farmer we feel we have a responsibility to lead the way environmentally, and I’m delighted that our farm is taking part in this important national initiative.

“The Habitat Heroes project taking place at Coldham and five other sites across the country gives us the chance to go that bit further and look at ways we can really make our land work for local wildlife.”

Otter numbers began to decline in the UK in the 1950s due to pesticide use, hunting and destruction of habitats. Ideally, otters build holts under bank-side tree roots, or in dense undergrowth adjacent to healthy rivers and particularly under mature ash and oak tree roots.

In recent years, many old bank-side trees have been cleared and natural holt sites have become rare. Artificial holts, like the new one at the Coldham farm, now provide a refuge for otters whilst their habitats recover.

By launching the national wildlife project, The Co-operative Farms joins environmental campaigners taking direct action to preserve endangered or protected species, in response to the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and a continuing concern over a global decline in biodiversity.

The Co-operative Group is funding the project, while its farming business has harnessed the support of farm managers, local environmental groups and volunteers to carry out the vital environmental work to improve and sustain the habitats of species that are indigenous to the farms. Protecting the environment is a key element in Group’s groundbreaking Ethical Plan launched earlier this year.