A Darlington garden centre’s fish population has been decimated after an otter ate more than £10,000 worth of Japanese Koi.

Richard Scarr, owner of Paddock Farm garden centre in Dalton Gates, Darlington, has been left devastated after the centre was forced to move their fish inside after the incidents involving the otter.

Mr Scarr, who has worked at the garden centre for 12 years, captured the animal entering one of the centre's netted ponds on CCTV and leaving with a fish in its mouth.

The otter has obliterated their entire stock of the carp, and many other fish at the centre, in the space of a week earlier this year - and said he had discovered the headless bodies of the fish by the side of the pools.

Garden centre staff have tried everything to catch the mammal, which has been described as similar to a “medium-sized” dog, but has sadly failed to keep the animal out.

He said: “He got all of the Japanese Koi in the main pond. The worst thing is they don’t eat the whole fish, they just eat the heads off them because they like the brains.

“Awful to say the least to come down in the morning and see that.

“We tried everything we could, we were trying to get up early in the morning to catch it, but we just couldn’t find a way.

“We put new fences up, we did whatever we could, but we just couldn’t keep him out no matter what.”

He added the centre has taken the remaining fish, which comprise of a couple of sturgeons and other fish and placed them inside – but this has impacted the look of the centre.

Mr Scarr said they had not seen the otter on their wildlife camera since the end of January but remained too afraid of the animal returning to put the fish back outside.

He said the lack of fish outside has led to negative reviews online, but said he had been left conflicted about reintroducing fish due to the previous incidents.

“We’re just not sure, we hear of neighbours and other people getting their fish taken by the otter. It’s just not worth risking it again,” he added.

“We’re just giving it as long as we dare give it, but obviously it’s not great. People are coming around the gardens, obviously the ponds look a bit neglected because they’re empty.

“It’s that sort of catch-22 as a business owner as to whether I put more fish out there, but it’s how you protect it.”

Mr Scarr said he has contacted the Wildlife Trust for help catching the otter, but they said nothing could be done.

He added he believes the mammal caused damage to the pond’s liner, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.

The otter is also thought to have raided a pond at the centre which housed rehomed fish – and Mr Scarr remains unsure how many were taken by the animal.

He said he had never had to deal with an otter before and initially believed the perpetrator to be a heron or wild cat, before capturing the culprit on camera.

Mr Scarr has speculated that the otter may have been feeding a family of otters after they noticed fish scales leading into bushes at a nearby beck.