It might be a splatter of poo on a rock by a stream, but environmentalists in South Bristol say they are excited by the discovery – which means otters have returned to a tributary of a tributary of the River Avon.
Far up the steep-sided river valley that falls from Hartcliffe to Bedminster, signs of otter ‘spraint’ – the dung of otters that they leave on rocks near the river – have been found in Crox Bottom, the semi-wild green space below the Imperial Retail Park.
And now conservationists and local campaigners say the discovery further strengthens their calls for housing development proposals further along the banks of the same river to be dropped, because of the environmental damage that would be done.
The signs of otter ‘spraint’ were discovered by the Friends of Crox Bottom group just after Christmas, and made public earlier this week.
The group said they were cautious about making the discovery public, in part because there had been reports of some people taking guns into the park and shooting at the wildlife already known to be there.
But the discovery is too important to keep secret, they said, because of the implications for the protection of the whole river valley. Crox Bottom is a green space valley that has the fast-flowing Pigeonhouse Stream running through it, from the ring road in Hartcliffe, down to Hartcliffe Way and the approach to Bedminster.
The stream runs on under Hartcliffe Way and into the area of land known as the Western Slopes, where private housing developers Lovell Homes have submitted an application to build 157 houses on half the land, and Bristol City Council has controversial plans to develop the rest, with up to 600 new homes on the green space proposed in total.
Avon Wildlife Trust has announced it formally opposes any development on the Western Slopes – which remained undeveloped green pasture and meadow land as the suburbs of Knowle West, Bedminster, Headley Park and Hartcliffe were built around it in the middle years of the 20th century – and said their opposition is based on the biodiversity of the area.
The Pigeonhouse Stream flows into the Malago river at the Bedminster end of the Western Slopes, which then flows through Bedminster to the Avon near Asda. Bristol City Council has a project to reopen a section of the Malago, as part of the Bedminster Green project.
The discovery of otters living so far up a South Bristol tributary of the River Avon has surprised the group that volunteer to look after Crox Bottom.
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A spokesperson for the group said it was ‘incredibly exciting news’.
“The two photos may not look like much, but they are the spraint of otters,” she said. “We’re really pleased that Crox Bottom is getting some recognition for being a lovely and important spot for wildlife.
“We hope that spreading the news might lift the profile of the green spaces in this area, and increase awareness of their importance to wildlife of many shapes and sizes, and it will also help local people to feel proud of what is on their doorstep and help to take care of it,” she added.
It is the latest discovery of a return of wildlife to the rivers around Bristol – just a few months ago, Avon Wildlife Trust confirmed that beavers had returned to the River Avon near the city.
A spokesperson for the Friends of the Western Slopes, a campaign group trying to stop homes being built on the Site of Nature Conversation Interest that includes the Pigeonhouse Street, said the discovery that otters were confirmed as living on the river was important.
“We are thrilled that there’s definitive evidence of otters residing at Pigeonhouse Stream since finding the deceased otter on Hartcliffe Way recently was so heartbreaking,” she said.
“It shows how hard this area of South Bristol is working for biodiversity and proves the importance of keeping our SNCI sites like Crox Bottom and the Western Slopes in tact so protected species like these otters have a safe path to travel.
“Hopefully the council and Lovell Homes will take note of this remarkable find and re-consider their plans for the area,” she added. “It would quite frankly be shameful if the council continues with their development plans for the area and the city loses such a precious wildlife corridor with so many protected species.”