I think I’ve mentioned the Stour before: it’s our local river, rises in the Clent Hills and eventually joins the Severn at Stourport, having accumulated water from other minor tributaries along the way. The journey is short and generally unspectacular; there are many stretches where the banks are overgrown, inaccessible and nature is left to find its own equilibrium. Not good for walkers but better for wildlife.
For much of its route, the Stour is shadowed by canals; the Stourbridge canal at first and then, for about half of its entire length, by the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. Occasionally the separation will be up to a hundred metres or so; mostly the two watercourses flow within a few yards of each other with the canal being the more picturesque and the towpaths providing better walking.
Much cleaner now than it was in the days when it collected unfiltered pollution from the industrial BlackCountry and the discharged chemicals from Kidderminster’s carpet factories, the river has seen the return of wildlife – kingfishers, grey wagtails, a variety of fish – including barbel – working their way upstream from the confluence with the Severn.
Now there are otters, and in the unlikeliest of places…
The canal passes beneath the village of Cookley by means of a tunnel. Immediately after exiting the tunnel on the Kidderrminster side, the old BSC Cookley works is on the right-hand side. The works these days are much diminished from former times; the old processing operations are long gone and what remains is primarily a stampings factory. The site is sandwiched between the canal and the river, which runs behind it. A public footpath leaves the canal towpath and leads down to a bridge spanning the river.
It was while standing on this bridge, looking at a pair of grey wagtails, that we noticed a dark shape moving upstream against what is quite a strong current following recent rains. It quickly became apparent that we were looking at a decent sized otter.
The otter briefly exited the water to inspect a small bank [right] before re-entering the river and continuing its journey upstream. Unfortunately it never really posed for the ideal shot and the one to the right is the best of the pictures while it was clear of the water.
We must have crossed this bridge at least a hundred times in the past and never seen anything more exotic than the odd mallard. Even the wagtails were a surprise and without them we might never have noticed the otter.