Otters are members of the Mustelidae family and are one of Britain’s largest carnivores.  Otters are mainly nocturnal and inhabit a wide range of aquatic habitats including small ditches, moorland streams, lakes, ponds, large rivers, estuaries and the coast.  They feed primarily on fish, but will also feed on crayfish/invertebrates, amphibians, birds and mammals.  There are a number of words used to describe the places where otters shelter, including holt, den and couch.


Otter surveys involve searching for otter field signs including footprints, spraints (faeces) and slides.  As otters are active all year round, surveys can be conducted at any time of year but may be less successful during the peak vegetation growth season when visibility of field signs may be limited.



Otters are protected under both European and British law.  European Protected Species (EPS) are listed on Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations, 2010.  Those species listed on Schedule 2 are protected under Regulation 41, which refers to the protection of wild animals of a European Protected Species.

Under the Habitats Regulations, it is an offence if you:

  • Deliberately capture, injure or kill any wild animal of an EPS
  • Deliberately disturb wild animals of any such species
  • Deliberately take or destroy the eggs of such an animal, or
  • Damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal

British protected species of animal are listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended).  Those species listed on Schedule 5 are protected under Part 1, Section 9, which refers to the protection of certain wild animals. Under Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended) if any person –

  • intentionally kills, injures or takes any wild animal included in Schedule 5;
  • has in his possession or control any live or dead wild animal included in Schedule 5 or any part of, or anything derived from such an animal;
  • intentionally or recklessly damages or destroys, or obstructs access to, any structure or place which any wild animal included in Schedule 5 uses for shelter or protection;
  • disturbs any such animal included in Schedule 5 while it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for that purpose;
  • sells, offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild animal included in Schedule 5, or any part of, or anything derived from, such an animal; or,
  • publishes or causes to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that he buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell, any of those things, he shall be guilty of an offence.

Otters and development

Otter surveys may be required where development proposals have potential to impact upon otter habitat. The impact may be direct, such as a loss of a holt site or indirect such as increased lighting along a section of a river corridor used by otters. If otters are potentially going to be impacted by proposals for development, a CES ecologist will work with the design team to develop suitable mitigation and compensation measures, such as re-designing the lighting regime or creating an artificial holt.

Please contact us to discuss your specific project or to request a quotation for conducting an otter survey and providing you with a report to support your planning application.

Useful information:

Natural England – Otters: Surveys and Mitigation for Development Projects

Natural Resources Wales – Otters

Bickley Hall Farm, Bickley, Malpas, Cheshire, SY14 8EF

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