Norfolk Wildlife evangelist Nick Acheson shares his joy at the sight of otters on the Little Ouse
An otterly wonderful story from Nick Acheson
Afew weeks ago I found myself tearing as fast as I could run along the bank of the Little Ouse, away from a mother otter and her well-grown cub. Even though otters have resurged from the edge of extinction in Norfolk in the past 40 years, in large part thanks to the work of the now disbanded Otter Trust, and even though they now inhabit all of our rivers and are greatly easier to see than my childhood self could ever have dreamed, I have still seen few enough otters in Norfolk for this to be a jolly strange way to behave.
Some backstory is required. I was with friends by the Little Ouse, hoping to see both birds and this couple of otters who had been seen often through winter and spring. As we walked along the river we bumped into a man and his young son.
They had recently put in many hours along the riverbank, in the hope of seeing the otters, but had had no luck. Footprints they had seen, spraint they had seen, but of the otters themselves, nothing.
It mattered a great deal to the young lad to see these otters, because of things happening in his young life, and it was clear that his gentle father was longing for them to see them together.
We walked a little further, leaving father and son, but eventually – otterless – we turned around to head elsewhere. We again passed the man and his boy, peering under tree roots and looking for signs of otters in the mud.
Then, a couple of hundred metres further on I caught sight of something under the opposite bank, something sleek, glossy and twisting. I raised my binoculars and saw the unmistakable round head of an otter.
Stammering to my friends to keep their eyes on it, I turned and ran back whence we had come. It seemed cruel beyond words that we should see the otters while the young lad who had tried so hard to see them did not.
Happily I found them and they sped back with me. Still more happily, the otters switched from elusive to brazen, swimming along the river beside us, repeatedly stopping mid-river to feed, even swimming to our bank, just to make sure we were getting a good enough look.
Thrillingly, the pup clambered onto the bottom branch of a willow two metres beneath us and peered up, apparently as fascinated by us as we were by it.
But much of the time, I confess, I was not watching the otters. I was watching the wide-eyed excitement of the lad we had met. I was watching him explain to his dad as the otters showed each behaviour he had read about in a book.
I was watching his dad beaming with love and pride and thanks for these otters, swimming into their lives.
These otters were what Norfolk’s wonderful Simon Barnes would describe as a ‘wardrobe’ (in reference to
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) – something which transports you into a new world, which opens horizons beyond your previous imagining.
Had I 10,000 words of column space I could not recount all the wardrobe moments I have had in my nature-watching life, nor the moments in which an encounter with a wild creature has set my heart, as Shakespeare wrote; ‘Like to the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth.’
I cannot imagine a life in which nature did not daily lift my heart, inspire me. I do not want such a life. And with every breath I am given I will strive to make sure that no-one is forced to live one.
‘I cannot imagine a life in which nature did not daily lift my heart, inspire me’
If you would like to connect to Norfolk’s wildlife, Norfolk Wildlife Trust holds hundreds of events, has welcoming visitor centres and volunteering opportunities with local people. Start at norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or phone 01603 625540.
BELOW: The otters playing along the Little Ouse