Yesterday the story of a garden pond in Norfolk that had been raided by an otter hit the a BBC News and a few weeks ago there was the former fishery owner trying to sue the environment agency for £2.5 millon! because otter ate his fish. Both of these stories hardly left the otters in a good light, but a closer look left me with some questions.
In the case of an Otter eating ‘£10,000-worth of pond fish in Thetford’ there are some interesting Headlines:
Killer otter devastates Thetford couple after killing scores of their prize fish – EDP24
Distraught couple forced to remove 6,000 gallon pond from their garden after hungry otter ate 200 prized fish worth £10,000 – Daily Mail
What a r-otter: Killer pest eats £10,000 prize carp from couple’s pond – Daily Mirror
While on holiday an otter had come into their garden and eaten their pond fish which included some large and old Koi and ghost carp which were worth over £10,000, according to owners of the pond. It seems it was an idylic scene before the otter arrived, to quote Mrs Brown in the Daily Mail
‘People would come and bring their children to see all the fish and the wildlife. It was devastating for us because they were so beautiful and had been a part of our life for 25 years.
‘We had a good fence around the pond, a net over the top, but there is no way you could stop an otter getting in.
That last sentence is interesting because if you look at the photo below the quote, that fence certainly doesn’t look otter proof. If you look at the photo in this link, you can see a fence with netting: ITV NEWS Hard to call that a “good fence.” Mr Browns statement “…there is no way you could stop an otter” seems somewhat erroneous, as a fence without holes wider than an otter might have been worth a try….
The BBC News article mentions that they had now remaining removed the remaining fish and were going to fill in the pond. This struck me as strange so I googled around and found and article on EDP24 stating the couple were “heartbroken” which is why they had to fill the pond in. (Note the fence and the sad couple in front of a drained pond for dramatic effect). What confused me about the filling in of the pond was this statement from the BBC News article:
“We used to have four foot grass snakes, adders, lizards, newts, kingfishers, ducks and loads of wildlife come to the pond, but now we’ll never see those again.”
If they like that wildlife so much why not convert the pond into a wildlife pond? In fact one of the main recommendation for a wildlife pond is: no fish!
The full quote on EDP24 reveals more though:
“We will not see the same wildlife visiting our garden any more because we are not giving the otter another chance to kill or mutilate any more fish.
“We will miss the ducks visiting our pond, the kingfishers sitting on the fence, the heron, standing on the decking and the dragonflies, frogs, newts, snakes and many others who come to our pond. So much for someone’s wonderful idea of reintroducing otters into the rivers so we can see more wildlife.
“It won’t be in our garden now and maybe others gardens after the otter has visited their ponds.”
So otters ate their fish and now all the wildlife will pay the price….
The Bury Free Press article suggests that the environment agency has money for otter proof fencing. Mrs Brown is reported to have said
The Environment Agency is sitting on a big pot of cash which should be used to protect ponds like ours.
“We didn’t know about this and haven’t seen it advertised anywhere and it’s taken an otter to destroy our pond for us to find out about it.
“We have nets and things for child safety and to stop animals getting in but it wouldn’t stop an otter. We need proper protection.
“Otters are cute, they really are, especially when they are lying on their backs and playing with the fish.’
‘But I feel the people who released these otters back into the Norfolk rivers haven’t looked into this enough.
Unfortunately for Private pond owners, there isn’t a vast pot of tax payer money for private pond owners to pay for otter fencing to protect their pets. There is a pot of money to help with the costs for otter fencing, but this is for fisheries open to the public. Mrs Brown also mentions the nets and fence “wouldn’t stop an otter…we need proper protection” It is sad that they seem to have money for a long trip in New Zealand and for loads of expensive fish, but when it comes to otter proof fencing, they can’t afford it unless the Environment Agency (out of Tax payers money) pay for it and yet the otter gets the blame.
Looking at this article, sadly it looks like they’ve filled in the pond. Full points to the photographer in this one though portraying the sad couple in front of the former glorious pond now filled with soil and rubble. Still as long as it stops that evil otter feeding that what counts I guess!
As for the otter reintroductions, these seems to get brought up in every otter story, usually without anyone checking the facts. Many people seem to think that otters were and are being reintroduced in great numbers, which is why they are ‘invading’ fisheries and garden ponds. The facts are very different. By 1970 otters had drastically declined and become extinct over much of England and parts of Scotland and Wales. They did start to recover across some of the country, but in the East of England there were no signs of this. So between 1984 and 1997 the Otter Trust released 117 captive-bred otters. A Further 49 rehabilitated animals were released by the Vincent Wildlife Trust, mostly in Yorkshire between 1990 and 1996. That is a total of 168 animals. Hardly the masses many claim and none have be reintroduced since 1999, as the otter were recolonising well enough on their own. To quote the Environment agency:
…descendants of the released otters form only a tiny proportion of the otter population of England, and most wild otters are the result of the natural recovery of the species after the banning of toxic pesticides.
What it comes down to in the end is people are stocking these pond with unnaturally high levels of often non native or ornamental fish with no where for them to hide in the lakes/ponds and with no protection. Otters are wild animals and if they see easy prey they are going to take it. Why I sympathise with those loosing fish, which can’t be easy, whether its pets or livelihoods at stake, leaving an over stocked (by which I mean unnaturally high levels of fish) lake or pond unprotected and blaming the otter is like leaving a plate of chocolate biscuits unguarded in a nursery and blaming the children when they eat them!
Still I doubt it will stop some calling for a cull….