"Don't try this at home", Cragside
by Geoff, November 2007
Our annual visit to the wonderful property of Cragside was very well supported and it was great to see some new faces amongst the regular rhodi bashers. Our weekend started off as usual with the Friday night get-together in the Newcastle Hotel in Rothbury, where Rebecca carried off the prize for the pub's regular Play Your Cards Right game (thus upsetting one of the more vocal locals, which was highly entertaining in itself - Ed).
This year we set to work clearing and burning (you've guessed it!), rhododendron in a valley near to the Blackburn car park. We continued the work already started by a previous group, and although the job was too big for us to finish, we made a noticeable difference to the impenetrable tangle we found when we started.
Due to the size of the Estate, the policy is to target specific areas for clearing, which will encourage wildlife and the regeneration of native trees and plants. There have been a number of Otter sightings further down the valley and it is hoped that by removing the rhododendron, it will encourage them to increase their range and breed on the Estate.
Ian, the Warden, has talked about building Otter holts for a number of years now, so when on Sunday he showed us the pile of logs which had been stacked up ready, we jumped at the chance. Otters are naturally inquisitive animals and will explore a wide area along the banking for possible shelters and suitable breeding sites. Hopefully by next year, there will be evidence of Otters on the Cragside Estate.
BUILDING AN OTTER HOLT - (Please don't try this at home*)
Plan and photos by Geoff
A dry piece of ground was selected and cleared of debris. The chosen site was several metres away from the stream where it hopefully would not flood. A trapezium shape approximately 1.5metres wide and 1metre deep was marked out with stakes. Two entrance tunnels facing the stream were also marked out to provide access and an escape root for the Otters. Log walls were then built up between the stakes to a height of about half a metre. The roof was made by laying thinner logs across the top of the walls and this was then covered with smaller branches and other vegetation. If possible, it is a good idea to utilise trees and other natural features to strengthen the construction and make the holt look more natural.
*unless, obviously, you want to be instantly inundated with Otters - Ed.