Some Like it Otter
As a National Trust Ranger I help to look after 5 ½ miles of the Lake Windermere lakeshore, we have a couple of islands that we also help to manage. I spend a good deal of my time by the water, in the woodlands and farmland close to the lake. It has been a source of continuing frustration that I have never seen an otter in the wild in the lakes…. until recently !
In Otter words
Otters have been a spectacular part of the Lake District wildlife for thousands of years , they are a carnivorous mammal feeding mainly on fish , part of the weasel family. The name is derived from the Old English word ‘otor’ which in turn is derived from the older word ‘wodr’ which is where the word ‘water’ comes from ( see the connection ! ) they can be seen in the water or close to it even in the middle of the day.
The Otter population in the Lake District has dramatically reduced in size over the years , suffering as a result of hunting in the 1800’s, packs of specially bred Otter Hounds were used to track down and kill Otters along water courses . Otters had made themselves unpopular with land owners who were keen to protect their fish stocks.
Numbers dropped dramatically in the 50’s and 60’s as a result of water pollution and a loss of habitat until they could only be found in small numbers in North Lancashire and South Cumbria.
Things can only get Otter
But in the last 20 years the otter population has been recovering and sightings have been increasing around Windermere, Coniston and Tarn Hows. I would hear news of otters spotted at Tarn Hows, Wray Castle and Low Wray , but frustratingly never see them when I was there ! The tell tale sign of an otter in the water is seeing the dark shape of the head moving smoothly and rapidly , low in the water then disappearing below the surface with a flick of the tail. Sometimes I would see this sight only to find out that it was a cormorant or a coot.
My luck changed un-expectantly a couple of weekends back when I was waiting for the car ferry that crosses Windermere on a Saturday morning at about 10.00am. Sat in the car looking out across the lake I noticed the head swimming past, I jumped out of the car and ran down to the waters edge and there a few metres away was a young otter hunting for fish , apparently unaware , certainly not bothered that there were quite a few boats and people around ! It was one of those thrilling , magical wildlife moments, made all the more sweet because I had to wait so long for it .
So here’s another reason ( as if you needed one ! ) why you might want to take a stroll along the west shore of Lake Windermere, combine your otter spotting with a visit to Claife Viewing Station or Wray Castle.
If you fancy a longer stay next to the lake, why not stop at our Low Wray Campsite or one of our cottages at High and Low Strawberry Gardens.
Finally, if you find yourself in a bad mood , having a bad day , worried about Brexit, or our chances in the Eurovision Song Contest , check out the pictures online of ‘otters holding hands’ and feel the stress melt away.