The mystery of fish disappearing from an ornamental pond at Otter Garden Centres in Ottery St Mary has been solved after eagle-eyed team members spotted an unexpected visitor.

It began when a large Koi carp went missing from the pond, followed by another two days later. The remains of a third fish were found nearby.

When Otter Garden Centres' fish expert Jim Walker inspected the pond and scoured the surrounding area, he found what he was certain were otter paw prints in the earth.

Sidmouth Herald: Otter Garden Centres' fish expert Jim WalkerOtter Garden Centres' fish expert Jim Walker (Image: Otter Garden Centres)

He said: “We couldn’t believe that an otter had the brass to come into the garden centre at night for a dip in the pond and a tasty supper!”

Investigations continued, including checks at the fence at the back of the nursery area, which has two gates that allow badgers and foxes to move freely but keep rabbits out.

Jim still had his doubts: “It seemed unlikely that an otter would make all the effort to come up to the site from the river, use the badger gate and walk the distance to the pond just to find food.”

But then the otter was spotted twice making his escape after further daring raids on the pond, once by a member of the night security team and then by a team member walking to work at around 7.30am.

So Jim netted the remaining fish and took them to a different pond offsite to keep them safe.

He said: “We realised we couldn’t just leave the Koi in the pond, waiting for the otter to come back and help itself to another late-night supper.

“We’ll leave the pond empty for a few months before we make a decision about whether it’s safe to bring the Koi back. It’s a real shame as so many customers – especially children – love watching these beautiful fish in the spring and summer months. But it’s hard to argue with nature.”

He said that overall, the garden centre team feel it’s a positive thing to have had sightings of otters and to know they are living close by in the river, adding: “We just have to hope that when the weather improves they will stay in the river and stop the night-time visits to the Koi pond in search of midnight snacks!”