It makes a refreshing change to write about what hopefully will become a modern-day tradition on and around Dartmoor as opposed to one belonging to the mists of time. In the May of 2017 one hundred ‘otters’ were released on and around Dartmoor. These ‘otters’ were placed in 94 locations ranging from pubs, cafes, hotels, Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centres, tourist attractions, and local businesses. However, these were not living and breathing otters but were three foot statues that have been decorated by both professional and amateur artists of all ages from around the South West. Back in 2016 people were invited to submit their designs from which the top one hundred were chosen to become part of a major art trail which is the first to be held in a UK National Park. There is a wide diversity of artistic interpretation amongst the finished statues. Some depict the many aspects and locations of Dartmoor, others are clever puns on the word ‘otter’ and a few represent Dartmoor related trades and passtimes. The main sponsor of the project is South West Water who as custodians of Dartmoor’s waters have an interest in otter conservation. Additionally supporters such as the Western Morning News, Bovey Castle Hotel, South West Colour have also helped the initiative along with a whole host of local businesses.
The otters were officially unveiled at an event held at the Bovey Castle Hotel on the 24th of May 2017. Each otter will then wend its merry way to its chosen location and the whole ‘romp’ or ‘raft’ (the collective names for a group of otters) will go on display from the 1st of June 2017. Come September the 15th each otter will be retired from public service and returned to the communal ‘holt’ prior to being auctioned off.
The concept of the project is twofold, firstly to celebrate the conservation success of the growing numbers of wild otters’ which are returning to the waters of Dartmoor and secondly it is hoped to raise £100,000 which will go towards future conservation projects. The money will be raised by two methods; donation slots inserted into each of the pedestals on which the otters are displayed and by auctioning off the otter statues once they have served their purpose sometime in the September of 2017. The otters will be on display throughout the summer months when it is hoped that holidaymakers, local and other visitors will take part in the trail. There can be no question that children will relish the challenge and there is even a “I’m An Otter Spotter” badge awarded for those who find twenty of the statues. Every entry will also go into a competition to win meals, cinema tickets, luxury chocolates, vouchers and short brakes all donated by local businesses. The other benefit of this project is that it should give a huge boost to the local economy by the very fact that many of the otters are being displayed in the premises of local businesses. I would also suggest that for those venturing out on the ‘Otter Trail’ they will have a further opportunity of exploring the many other delights of Dartmoor as they travel around. Anyone with a penchant for local Dartmoor food and drink could enjoy a summer filled with visiting the pubs, hotels and cafes who have housed an otter for the summer – a map and list of such places which make up a Dartmoor ‘OTTour‘ can be seen below.
“Great art picks up from where nature ends,” – Marc Chagall. Every one of the one hundred otter statues are truly outstanding works of art which portray their creators thoughts and inspirations. If I had to pick my favourite top five ‘otters’ they would be the ones shown above. Why those? Purely and simply because each one represents many of the aspects of Dartmoor which I love, from its landscape to its flora and from its fauna to its traditions. I especially like ‘Colin the Rescue Otter’ which was designed by Ayse Rifat as this both celebrates and commemorates the Dartmoor Rescue Group volunteers who are regularly called out to aid those in difficulties on and around the Moor.
For much more information regarding the Moor Otters’ please visit their dedicated website which can be found at this link – HERE. On the site you will find a pictorial catalogue showing each of the one hundred otters along with information on the various conservation projects taking place. There is also a downloadable entry form for the ’20 otter competition’ should you wish to enter it.