For the first time in living memory, wild otter cubs have been born in Jesmond Dene, a great example of the value of the Ouseburn wildlife corridor to biodiversity within the city
The two cubs were born on one of the few secluded banks of Jesmond Dene at the beginning of the year but news has been kept under wraps until now to avoid disturbing them.
Ouseburn Parks ranger Michael Hancock said: “It’s great to finally be able to let people know about this, it’s been hard to keep quiet about such great news, especially when a few lucky dog walkers were reporting seeing three otters swimming around in broad daylight. The cubs look to be growing really well and although they will stay with the mum for another few months they’re old enough now to avoid human disturbance.”
This breeding success is the culmination of a population revival which has seen increasing otter activity along the Ouseburn river over the last ten years.
Kevin O’Hara, Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Wetland officer, who has been helping to analyse the otter activity in Jesmond Dene, said: “This is the third record of otters breeding on the Ouseburn in the last five years. They only returned to the river in around 2000 after many, many decades of absence and you’d have to go back a long way to find such regular breeding occurrences.”
The otter population in Jesmond Dene is monitored by special cameras funded by the Jesmond Dene Volunteer Rangers’ Nature area project. The camera first spotted a male and female together in October last year, followed in February with footage of a female which had apparently recently given birth. The cubs, which remain in the den for the first three months of their lives were first spotted on film in May. Quite a bit of footage of the female otter and her cubs has been captured since then, including glimpses of them swimming in broad daylight.
Yvonne Shannon of the Volunteer Rangers said: “We do a lot of work to try and improve the biodiversity in Jesmond Dene, creating and managing suitable habitats for wildlife, including otters. As well as regularly clearing rubbish and debris from the river and removing invasive plants, such as Japanese knotweed, we have helped in building several otter holts so that they have a safe places to rest. The new ponds, developed as part of the Nature area project will also increase the amount of food available to them as well as benefiting other wildlife.”
Hancock added: “Many people are surprised that this urban stretch of the Ouseburn can support otters, let alone a breeding population but a lot of work has been done in recent years by Rangers and volunteers to improve the habitat for them. Otters also have a very varied diet and analysis of their droppings shows that as well as eating the many small fish found in the river; frogs, rats and young birds have been important food sources for the the young cubs.”