A fight against plans to replace a 200-year-old bridge with a modern equivalent may have been handed an unexpected boost after endangered otters were spotted fishing in the village pond.

Essex County Council’s plans for Finchingfield has been met with stiff resistance – not least because of concerns believe it will wreck the village and surrounding countryside by enabling heavier more frequent HGV-through traffic.

The authority estimates works, which will involve building a temporary causeway across the pond while the bridge is being replaced, could take up to nine months.

But now those plans may have to be paused after a pair of otters were spotted in the pond last week.

Otters are designated and protected as European protected species. It means it is an offence to deliberately kill, injure, disturb or capture them and damage or destroy their breeding sites and resting places – even if otters are not present.


It is also an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally or recklessly disturb otters while they occupy a structure or place used for shelter or protection and obstruct access to a place of shelter or protection.

Nicholas and Nicky Eveleigh captured the shot of the pair late at night last week, but they had also heard what they believed were otters in the summer.

She said: "They make quite a distinctive noise."

Nicholas said: "They were down there quite a while fishing. It was just nice to see them."

Essex County Council says the existing bridge is 'weak' and needs replacing to ensure it is capable of carrying the full range of vehicles which legally are permitted to use it.

Essex County Council says the new bridge and pond elevation will be constructed to the same dimensions as the existing bridge, albeit a short distance into the pond to accommodate the introduction of narrow verges.

New heritage bricks will be selected through the construction of sample panels in the spring of the 2023.

There have been fears that without a temporary crossing, drivers could have been facing a 16-mile detour for months which business owners say would have killed trade in the village. But Essex highways plans show a causeway crossing constructed with 12 pipes secured with concrete-filled sandbags.

However the plans still need the green light from planning committee members who are being asked to consider the harm done to heritage assets in the village and its draw to visitors while a temporary crossing is in place.

A report accompanying the pre-planning application from Essex County Council in 2021 said a document supporting a temporary crossing at that time "fails to consider is whether people will however continue to visit, in the same numbers, whilst works to the bridge are on-going".

It adds: "It is officers’ view that those looking to visit the area are likely going to be less concerned about a potential diversion being in place and more concerned about the fact that construction works are on-going to the bridge where they wanted to take a photo."

The application will have to take into account any assessment into otter activity.

Jane Welsh, who owned the village post office and shop said at a public meeting held over the village plans for the bridge said: "The otters are there. I have spoken to an otter expert. Otters are solitary animals. Otters are only ever in pairs when they are breeding or if it’s a family unit.

"The fact they have been spotted on the pond – I saw them two years ago – means they have been known to be there for a two years period.

"That can go on a planning application. There is a quite stringent survey that has to be done on it. It is quite a big thing, the otters."

There has since been a petition launched asking for the application to be called in for determination by the secretary of state.

It says: "The single option proposed to demolish the ancient bridge in favour of a 30 per cent wider and 40-tonne new bridge which offers no benefits to residents and will damage Finchingfield’s historic setting and surrounding countryside forever by enabling heavier more frequent HGV through traffic."

A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: "As part of the planning application for Finchingfield Bridge, representations from all stakeholders have been invited.

"This includes the public as well as organisations such as the Environment Agency, which will assess the impact of the proposals on wildlife in the area.

"All these representations will be taken into account when the planning application is decided."