Otter Surveys

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Otter Surveys

The UK otter population suffered a dramatic decline between the 1950s and 1970s due to the introduction of certain organochlorine pesticides, which accumulated in the food chain. Since certain pesticides have been withdrawn from use and measures to improve water quality have been implemented, otters have made a steady recovery. Otters are associated with water bodies such as rivers, streams, lakes, canals, ponds, ditches and wetlands and travel widely within their home range.

Survey Types & Timing

Otter surveys typically entail walking a route along a watercourse for evidence of otters such as spraints (droppings), feeding remains, otter footprints, holts (dens), slides and couches (above ground resting places). Otter surveys can be undertaken at any time of year but it is advisable not to carry out surveys during periods of heavy rain (or immediately following a period of heavy rain) as evidence (e.g. footprints) may have been lost.

A survey licence is not required to undertake a general otter survey as described above. However, if invasive techniques are to be used (e.g. using an endoscope to inspect an otter holt) a survey licence will be required.

Legislation & Planning

The otter is fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and Schedule 2 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) making it a European Protected Species. It is illegal to:

  • deliberately or recklessly kill, injure or take (capture) an otter
  • deliberately or recklessly disturb or harass an otter
  • damage, destroy or obstruct access to a breeding site or resting place of an otter (i.e. an otter shelter)

If otters are found on site planning permission may be refused unless the applicant can show that otters will be protected during the construction/development works and that disturbance will be kept to an acceptable minimum. It can be possible to achieve this by modifying the construction process in order to minimise disturbance to otters and otter habitat.

The Next Step

If an offence is likely to be committed (i.e. it is not feasible to avoid disturbance to otters or the damage/destruction of their habitat) then a European Protected Species (EPS) development licence will be required from Natural England or the relevant body. If the development process will result in the destruction of an otter holt then suitable compensation must be implemented in the form of at least one artificial holt. The construction of new roads and river crossings will also need to take otters into account and suitable mitigation will need to be implemented accordingly if otters are present.