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The European otter (Lutra lutra) is a solitary animal and is the only otter found in the UK. They are active mainly at dusk and during the night and feed primarily on fish, frogs, crustaceans, voles and birds. Otters are aquatic animals and may have very large territories based around their main burrow called a holt. Additional resting sites called couches are utilised along a watercourse and they mark their territory by defecating along prominant features where the scent can be carried on the wind (sprainting sites). 




Otters are illusive animals and can be difficult to observe directly especially due to their nocturnal habits. Otter surveys are best carried out by searching for indirect evidence of their presence. Surveys are best carried out when herbaceous vegetation is less dense i.e. outside of the summer. Suitable otter habitat may vary considerably, however it appears that adequate quantities of food appear to be the most critical factor. Potential habitat should be walked and features observed e.g. under bridges, old trees, mounds etc which may act as potential, holts, couches or sprainting sites. Indirect evidence may include:


  • Tracks

  • Spraints (faeces)

  • Runs or pathways




It is an offence to work on a site where otters are present and a licence may be required depending on the level of disturbance to be incurred. Aether Ecology can help to instigate appropriate mitigation measures to provide suitable provisions to enable a protected speices licence to be granted. Mitigation may involve providing suitable habitat features such as artificial holts, couches the installation of underpass crossing points or bridge ledges and otter-proof fences.




Otters are protected under national law including Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994, and European legislation  including the Habitats Directive 1992 and the Bern Convention 1982. Otters are afforded them the highest level protection making it an offence to intentionally injure, kill, take, possess or sell or to intentionally or wrecklessly damage, destroy, disturb or obstruct a place used for shelter.

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