Posted 25 April 2014 by Andrew Gardner
It seems we might have otters and big cats in Sussex. Why am I lumping two totally different species together? What started the train of thought was a friend claiming to have seen an otter in West Sussex (I'm not giving you the location). Now, I was sceptical but she is a down-to-earth local person who walks her dog there regularly and knows her countryside. She saw whatever-it-was by a ghyll near a series of fishing lakes and given the floods at the time, we thought an otter could well have found its way into an unfamiliar area, especially one with such a good food source.
While the national effort to restore otter habitats and encourage the creatures to breed in the wild has been quite successful, they still don't really seem to have taken to Sussex, although some of the coastal areas are considered a potentially good habitat. But you never know.
The big cat connection came up when I looked up big cat sightings in Sussex and found that there have been a lot over the years, and they are in fact quite consistent, especially in certain areas - Devil's Dyke, Ditchling, Wisborough Green area and Balcombe, for example (did they join the fracking protests, I wonder?). But occasionally they are referred to as being about the size of an otter, or mistaken for one. Mostly they are considered to be either puma or black leopard, though sometimes a paler animal like a lynx is seen. That wouldn't surprise me at all.
Big cat sightings aren't a recent phenomenon - the 18th Century writer William Cobbett referred to them and there have always been people with a taste for exotic pets. Once they escape, or get too hot to handle, off into the wild they go - and the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act is believed to have been the catalyst for many creatures being quietly released into the wild.
So do we have them in Sussex? Very likely. But don't worry - the advice if you see one is to leave it alone and it will probably leave you alone. If it doesn't, don't run, do fight (preferably with a stick) and watch its teeth and claws. And if you want to see some bona fide animals on your holiday, do click here to check out our lovely selection of cottages on working farms. Enjoy!