This is Otto, and he has a significant role in my new novel, Bethulia.
Okay, when I say he’s Otto, that’s my name for him. He is actually “The Teifi Otter” and he was presented to the town of Cardigan on the Teifi estuary by David Bellamy on behalf of the Dyfed Wildlife Trust, to celebrate its golden jubilee. He guards the old bridge across the river and has been known to wear a scarf and bobble hat in cold weather.
And when I say he has a significant role in Bethulia… well, he does, even though he receives only a couple of passing mentions.
Otters rank in my life with kingfishers and red squirrels. I am forever taking walks with people who suddenly stop, in a state of high excitement and declare “There’s an otter! (Or kingfisher/red squirrel),” and when I turn to see, it has gone. “Oh, you missed it.” The Cardigan Wildlife park on the Teifi marshes is an ideal place to miss seeing otters. Everyone else seems to come away convinced that they’ve seen one, but not me.
Of course, British otters are normally nocturnal. Or crepuscular. A delightfully sinister word, but then dawn and dusk can be quite sinister. I don’t blame otters for avoiding the daylight, considering their history on the Teifi and other rivers in Britain. Otto may be there by Cardigan Bridge to celebrate the partial recovery of an otter population, but otter hunting was only banned in 1978, after almost wiping them out as a native species.
Otters, like foxes, were seen as vermin, competing with humans for something that humans thought they alone were entitled to kill. Coracle fishing for salmon on the Teifi was a valuable addition to the incomes of quarrymen and farm labourers along the river. Now, with the sale of valuable fishing licences to those who can afford them, the coracle fishermen have been forced into the same extinction as their web-footed rivals. And the salmon are a rare sight too.
Recovery has not been smooth. The otters are in decline again, probably due to pollution of the rivers, so Otto may be beginning to feel a little lonely. What part does he play in Bethulia? Not a lot, but suffice to say, there aren’t that many statues to otters in this country, and that’s handy to know.