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World Otter Day 2022

It’s World Otter Day on the 25th May this year, an event which aims to both celebrate and raise awareness about the threats otters face around the world. Many of the 13 species of otter across the globe are endangered. The Eurasian otter that lives in the UK is classed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. This means it is vulnerable to becoming an endangered species in the future.

We filmed the otter below on a trawler in Oban.

Otters in the UK

Since the 1990s, otter numbers in England and Wales have recovered from huge declines earlier that century. A combination of river pollution, persecution, poor water quality and a lack of legal protection meant that for decades they were restricted to the west and north of England. However, reduction in the use of certain pesticides and greater protection in law means that they are now present in every English county.

In Scotland, Eurasian otters had also declined during the 20th century due to pollution but have now recovered. They are much more coastal than their English and Welsh counterparts, although they are the same species. They are also less strictly nocturnal, with their behaviour determined more by the tides than time of day. One of our current projects is based in Shetland, which is lucky enough to have the densest population of otters in Europe. An estimated 800-1,000 otters live across the archipelago. Below is footage from one of our camera traps on site.

While this is cause for celebration, research in Wales shows that we cannot be complacent. Surveyors recorded a 20% drop in occupancy in some areas of the principality. Site occupancy fell from from 90% in 2010 to 70% in the period 2015 to 18. And almost all regions saw some level of decline. The researchers have not yet determined the cause of this fall, but there is a worry that the gains of the 1990s and 2000s will prove to be short-lived. Road deaths are almost certainly the biggest threat to otters in the UK. The continued rise in car numbers on the roads suggests this threat will only increase.

Otters and Development

As ecologists, we have a key role to play in making sure construction and development projects don’t threaten otters. Otters have strict legal protection in the UK. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), in combination with their status as a European protected species, affords otters the highest level of protection possible. It is an offence to capture, kill, injure or disturb otters or destroy a breeding or resting site. Although legislation doesn’t prevent all activity in areas where otters are present, proper care and attention needs to be paid to prevent disturbance.

A licence is required to carry out any monitoring and research, as well as carrying out any work that may disturb them or damage any sites they use. We hold a monitoring licence and have a great deal of experience surveying for otters. We also have expertise in applying for mitigation licences to cover potential disturbance, as well as advising on measures to reduce disturbance. See more about protected species surveys here.