Otter numbers in England and Wales declined dramatically from the mid 1950s to the late 1970s. Find out what we're doing to protect otters and their habitats.
The fifth otter survey of England 2009 - 2010
The return of the otter to most of England is one of the major conservation success stories of the last 30 years. The main reason for this increase has been the reduction in levels of toxic pesticides, but the improvements in water quality and consequent increase in fish stocks have probably played a significant part.
During 2009-10 more than 3,300 sites were surveyed. Sites showing evidence of otters have increased from 5.8 per cent in the first survey of 1977-79, to an outstanding 58.8 per cent in this survey.
Otters - the facts
The recovery of otters in the UK is having an impact on inland fisheries through predation. The situation is complex, and it is not clear why some waters have not been affected, even though otters are present.
We have been working together with the Angling Trust and Natural England to improve understanding about the interactions between otters and fish. As a starting point we have jointly produced 'Otters – the facts' which summarises our current knowledge:
We have also produced a joint statement with Natural England and the Angling Trust to address some of the widely-held misconceptions about otters and their impact on freshwater fisheries. To read it, click on the link below:
Otters - what we do
Otters are protected under UK and European law. They are also a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP).
Otters are nocturnal, elusive and trap-shy, so observing them in the wild is difficult. Because of this, most otter research in the UK is based on spraint (faeces) surveys. Information gained from dead otters, mostly killed on roads, is also vitally important.
We have been funding researchers at Cardiff University to conduct post-mortems on dead otters found in the UK since 1992. All dead otters in England and Wales are sent to the Cardiff University Otter Project, where over a thousand dead otters have been examined. This work is providing valuable information on the health of otters killed on our roads.
We help by analysing otter liver tissue. This detects any problems or toxic threats to the recovering population.
The Cardiff University Otter Project relies on reports of carcasses by members of the public, and organisations such as the Environment Agency, Countryside Council for Wales, Wildlife Trusts, the police and local authorities.
Otters and stillwater fisheries
Otters are the UK's natural top freshwater predator. Maintaining fish populations in rivers where otters have returned needs careful management until a balance is restored. For more information please read our Otters and Stillwater Fisheries Guide.
More information on otters
For more information and publications on otters please go to our Publications Catalogue.