Otter sightings in Sheffield centre

Tuesday 12th January 2016

Otters have been spotted living along the River Don in the heart of Sheffield. Signs of these rare and elusive creatures have been recorded all along the stretch of river, from Middlewood in the north west, along river banks near Meadowhall shopping centre, and further out towards Rotherham.

Records on the activities of the Sheffield otters are slim and work to improve our knowledge of their daily life is vital to our understanding of these well-loved creatures and our ability to protect them and encourage their return.

Though rarely seen, tell-tale signs that otters are in the vicinity include their distinctive footprints, the runs they take to the water’s edge, and their ‘spraints’ – otter droppings.

Perhaps most surprising of all, some of the strongest indications that these enigmatic mammals have made their way back to the region were recorded under well-used bridges that carry high volumes of traffic through the very heart of the city.
The money that we hope to raise will go towards a number of initiatives aimed at improving wildlife habitats in and around Sheffield and Rotherham. This will build on our ‘Living Landscape’ project, which has been working hard to establish a network of connected green spaces along Sheffield and Rotherham’s river corridors.

Our Otterly Amazing! appeal has been launched in a bid to raise £20,000 to restore the otters’ watery habitat and record their daily activity.

Camera traps
The £20,098 will be added to funding already secured from the Wren Biodiversity Action Fund. Part of this money will be used to purchase camera traps that will record the comings and goings of these shy creatures, building up a picture of where they live and how they use the river.

We want to raise money so we can do more survey work to find out how otters are doing. We’ve installed some artificial otter holts in the past but we don’t yet know whether otters are using them because we can’t tell without disturbing them, so if we install some cameras they will hopefully show the hotspots where they are particularly active, and then we can share that with the people of Sheffield so they can find out more about these fantastic animals living on their doorstep. Finding out more will also help us with our work because we can target efforts to protect those specific areas.

Habitat improvements
Improved water quality has been key to the return of the otter. Work by organisations such as the Environment Agency, along with changes to regulations about what can be put into the river, has had a huge impact on their recovery. But there is still a long way to go before we can be confident that otters have a strong foothold in the city.

We’ve already got some habitat improvements planned along some of our sites in Sheffield, so we want some funding to improve wetland habitat that will hopefully help otters and other species.

We have also aided in the development of a massive new wetland at its Centenary Riverside site. Centenary Riverside is a 4.5 hectare wetland reserve nestled alongside the River Don. The site was developed on one of the largest steel foundries in the area, known as the Seven Sisters. When the foundry closed in 1993, the site became overgrown. The Wildlife Trust, working with Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, began to develop the site as a wetland in 2006, with the aim of transforming it into a wildlife haven.

Work is continuing on other sites in conjunction with the Environment Agency and Rotherham Council at Kilnhurst Ings and Catcliffe to create ditches and scrapes that will help to retain more water in the flood plain. These improvements will go towards increasing biodiversity in the area.

If we get enough funding then we want to train up volunteers to do survey work. If people think that they’ve seen an otter then it would be great if they reported it, though it can be difficult as mink are also on the riverside and they can look quite similar, so it’s easy for someone to confuse a mink with an otter.

Donations
If you would like to contribute to the Otterly Amazing! appeal you can find contact details on our website at www.wildsheffield.com.

Or send a cheque to Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, Victoria Hall, 37 Stafford Road, Sheffield S2 2SF.

Please make the cheque payable to "Sheffield Wildlife Trust" and write 'Otter appeal' on the back.