Otters are one of the UK’s largest carnivores and are an unusual example of an animal whose fortunes have dramatically improved over the last few decades. They have recovered following years of persecution and the effect of harmful chemicals entering the water system. Since the 1960s otters have bounced back so that now they can be found in nearly every river catchment in Wales.
Primarily feeding on fish they occupy large territories encompassing rivers, lakes and other wetlands such as reedbeds. Our Coed y Bedw nature reserve near Pentyrch is primarily woodland but has an extensive stream network, along with a pond, which will offer plenty of potential food for otters. They are known to be present around Taff’s Well but so far have yet to be reliably recorded in the nature reserve itself.
Otters have a large number of resting places around their territory either beneath the ground (known as holts) or above the ground (couches). Holts are often beneath overhanging banks or upturned root plates of trees but can also be in burrows of other animals. At Coed y Bedw there are some potential natural holt sites but our staff and volunteers recently worked hard to create an artificial holt in a secluded location on the reserve, away from footpaths and other potential sources of disturbance.
The sturdy construction, made from wood from the reserve, provides a nesting chamber and two potential entrances, one leading into scrub and one towards the main stream. The holt was then roofed with logs, topped with brash and leaf litter before being finished over with ivy to ensure that it didn’t stand out from the surrounding habitat. We will keep regularly monitoring the site for signs of otter activity; mainly looking for their characteristic droppings known as ‘spraints’. Even if otters don’t take up residence the holt offers potential habitat for small mammals including hedgehogs as well as excellent deadwood habitat for fungi and invertebrates.