Berwick woman's legacy will fund Northumberland otter project

A donation of £20,000 from the late Vera Wainwright to the Northumberland Wildlife Trust will improve the health of the county's otter population

Stacey Smith, from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust with silver coins donated through a legacy
Stacey Smith, from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust with silver coins donated through a legacy

A generous legacy from nature lover Vera Wainwright is to finance a project which aims to reveal the population level and distribution of otters in Northumberland.

Mrs Wainwright lived in Berwick and was a member of Northumberland Wildlife Trust from 1994 to 2009.

She is believed to have been involved in early conservation work in the 1990s to bring otters back to Northumberland.

The late Mrs Wainright left a legacy of £20,000 with a specific request that the gift was to be used for an otter project in Northumberland.

The money will now fund a survey for signs of otters at 175 sites along the Tyne catchment in Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside.

The trust has been at the forefront of otter conservation in the region and provided the blueprint for otter projects across the country throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

But for some time the trust has been unable to carry out specific otter conservation work due largely to changing priorities and lack of funding.

It is more than 10 years since the last otter survey in Northumberland.

Kevin O'Hara An otter pictured on the River Blyth in Northumberland by Kevin O'Hara
An otter pictured on the River Blyth in Northumberland by Kevin O'Hara

As a consequence, there is no clear picture of the present status of the otter in the county.

The trust says that the animals are still threatened by road traffic accidents, unlawful killing and contamination.

Trust conservation officer Kevin O’Hara said: “Otters are generally difficult to see and surveying with normal survey techniques is quite problematic.

“It is my intention to ‘blitz’ a large number of sites across the whole county with the aid of volunteer surveyors and collect spraint (otter droppings) from these locations.

“I then intend to repeat the procedure at the same locations at two-week intervals, over a longer period, possibly three months. “

DNA samples will be taken and analysis will be paid for by a contribution from the Post Code Lottery.

It is hoped that the samples will provide information on individual otters, their ranges and movements.

Volunteers are needed to help with the survey. To help with the survey contact 0191 284 6884.

It is hoped the survey will highlight any gaps in otter distribution population and information on the health of animals.

“All this would not have been possible without one lady’s incredible generosity!,” said Kevin.

Meanwhile the trust has received another legacy - of 52 silver coins.

The silver coins donated through a legacy
The silver coins donated through a legacy

They form a Conservation Coin Collection with each featuring an endangered animal from a country and a notable person from that country – usually the head of state.

They are 38.61mm in diameter, have a fineness of .925, and weigh 28.28gms. There is also a wooden storage box which will hold some of them, but not all.

They were produced by Spink and the Royal Mint on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund and International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources with one being sold each month to form a collection.

They were available from the mid-1970s onwards and the trust has records of purchase for many of them plus six books on the different coins and countries.

The trust is inviting offers for the collection. To place an offer email Sheila Sharp, head of marketing and fundraising at sheila.sharp@northwt.org.uk

The coins were left by religious education teacher Zoe Jenkins, who lived in Corbridge, to be sold to help the trust’s work.

Jane Speak, the trust’s head of business management, said: “Northumberland Wildlife Trust is fortunate to benefit from the generosity of members and supporters who leave bequests to us in their wills.

“Legacy income allows the trust to deliver vital conservation and education work, including funding projects we might not otherwise be able to undertake.

“Making a bequest to the trust is a way of providing a lasting legacy and of helping to ensure that wildlife is protected into the future. It isn’t always cash, as the coins left to us by Zoe Jenkins demonstrates.”

Other legacies left to the trust in recent years include:

  • Phyllis Evetts - £60,000. Lived in the Hexhamshire area
  • Anne Carlton Faulkner - £2,000 to squirrel conservation
  • Peter Charles Healy - £1,000. Lived in Newcastle
  • Margaret Jean Higginson - £5,000 to squirrel conservation
  • Doreen Shirley Morant from Hexham - £5,000
  • Joyce Reay - £55,000. Lived in Whitley Bay
  • Pamela Robotham - £750. Lived in Allendale
  • Eric Whittle - £70,000. Lived in Southend

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