Wildlife expert and TV presenter Chris Packham has put his weight behind a campaign to stop a five-lane road bridge being built over an otter habitat on the river Lune.
Campaigners in Halton have produced evidence that up to 14 otters, which are a protected species under European law, are living, breeding and fishing on a stretch of the river near the current motorway bridge.
Plans for the new bridge as part of the Heysham M6 Link would see part a 200m stretch of woodland 80m west of the motorway being pulled down and built over.
Lancashire County Council conducted a survey which found no evidence of otters in the area, but an independent survey, and an increasing number of photographs taken by locals, contradict the county council’s results.
Halton resident and former businessman John Wilding has a family of otters that frequent the boathouse beneath his sitting room floor. John, who lives at The Boat House, formerly part of Halton Hall, has remote controlled cameras filming continuously and has hours of footage recorded.
For 10 years John has witnessed the otter population grow.
But the plans for the bridge mean John is now prepared to speak out about them, hoping, in effect, to save them.
The former owner of Th’owd Tithebarn in Garstang said he opposed the road in general, but even if he supported it, he would not want to see this unique habitat destroyed.
“Lancashire County Council should be very proud to have this here but instead we’re being completely ignored,” he said. “The otters have been here for 10 years, and over that period there’s been an explosion in their population, particularly in the last three years. This is certainly a nationally significant site.”
The county council said that two new otter holts on either side of the river would be constructed once engineering work finished, but campaigners say this is far from adequate.
Otters are protected under the Habitats Regulations 2010 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in England. A licence from Natural England is required when any activity could kill, injure or disturb otters. Steve McCreesh, Lancashire County Council’s project director for the Heysham M6 Link Road, said: “We’ve always acknowledged the presence of otters on the river, we’ve never denied that they are there, and that therefore means we have to do further surveys before any work on site can begin.”
Chris Packham, who presents Autumnwatch on the BBC, said: “This sounds like a very good example of concerned local conservationists essentially empowering themselves to protect these wonderful animals.”