Otters are European Protected Species (EPS) which means not only otters but also otter shelters are legally protected regardless of whether or not an otter is present.

Our ecologists have experience in planning surveys, developing and undertaking mitigation for otter on both large and small sites that ensure our clients are able to progress with their planning applications and developments.




Otter Surveys

Otters are largely solitary, nocturnal animals, and in many areas scarce, it is often difficult to observe individuals, let alone count them. Most studies have, therefore, been based on the use of field signs, in particular their faeces (spraints). These are used because otters tend to defecate on prominent places, such as stones, under bridges, stream junctions etc., often traditional sites that can be regularly used over a number of years. Resting sites (couches) and holts (otter dens) can usually, but not always be recognised.

Information about Otter Surveys

  • A spraint is defined as a single bowel evacuation. A simple scale of ageing spraints is used ranging from very fresh (within 24 hours old); fresh (1-3 days) recent (4-14 days); old (more than 2 weeks old). The ageing evaluation is based upon surveyor experience.

  • A spraint site is defined as a location where one or more otter spraints are found. Sites separated by more than one metre or by a physical feature, such as a stream, are deemed to be different.

  • Otter footprints have a characteristic pattern, and, where more than one set of prints are found in the same place, can give an indication of the presence of otter families.

  • Couches are places where otters regularly rest above ground and are characterised by areas of flattened grass. They are usually associated with spraint sites.

  • A holt is defined as a tunnel system with signs of regular use by otters – evidence included spraints, tracks and the characteristic smooth wear at entrances and smell. On riverbanks, holts can be found amongst tree roots, under brush or bushes, piles of boulders, or small holes in the bank.

  • A natal (breeding) holt is a den in which otter cubs are born. These are very difficult to find, and may be situated in areas some distance from the water. They can be in small holes or above ground, e.g. in a nest of reeds (Taylor & Kruuk, 1990; Kruuk, 1995; Liles, 2003). In most instances, there is very little evidence that these holts are being used, as females with newly born cubs do not usually spraint at their entrances. The best ways of locating them is by direct observations of animals or by radio tracking over a period of evaluation.

Spraints are used as the principal means of identifying otter presence, because:

  • they are relatively easy to find;

  • they can be relatively long-lasting;

  • they are distinctive both in look and smell;

  • otters usually spraint at the entrances of their holts (except probably natal holts) and on prominent features within their range, for example, stones, river confluences, vegetation swards, under bridges, trees stumps etc;

  • spraint sites can be used for a number of years;


Ellendale Environmental ecologists are experienced in designing mitigation and supervising construction sites to ensure works can continue

Mitigation / licensing

Planning authorities are required to consider the effect of any development on otters as part of any planning application. If it is impossible to avoid general disturbance to otters, or the destruction of their shelters and habitat, then appropriate mitigation and compensation measures should be implemented under the auspices of an EPS licence.

Mitigation can include buffer zones to habitat creation.


Why Choose Ellendale Environmental?

Your development will be in safe hands with our experts at Ellendale Environmental who will work alongside you to ensure that your development is compliant with the law which will minimise disruption to your project. We are able to ensure this through extensive searches of the surrounding area being conducted for the presence of otters. If otters are present we work collectively to ensure the development process is not hindered whilst protecting the otter through implementing appropriate mitigation and compensation measures.

Ellendale Environmental have undertaken surveys for otters throughout the UK and have experience in delivering survey for our clients to support their projects. We have experience of mitigation and licensing for projects including creation of habitat such as artificial holts, development monitoring and EPS licensing.



Otters are European Protected Species (EPS) protected under Annex II and IV of EC Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (the Habitats Directive). The Habitats Directive is transposed in Scottish law by the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994. Otter is listed on Schedule 2 of the Conservation Regulations 1994. The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2007 enhanced this protection.

Legislation protecting Otters

It is now 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) .

Thus, otter shelters are legally protected whether or not an otter is present.

The otter is also a UK BAP Priority Species and has been adopted as a Species of Principal Importance in England under Section 41 of the NERC Act 2006 (Section 42 in Wales) and the Conservation (Scotland) Act in Scotland.

The otter was for a long time classified as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, in the most recent issue of the Red List (2012), the status of the species has been lowered to ‘near threatened’ i.e. the species is considered to be near threatened when they have been evaluated against the criteria but do not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but are close to qualifying for or are likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.


Otters - Find Out More

The Eurasian otter Lutra lutra is the largest member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) found in Britain. The Eurasian otter is the most widely distributed otter species, its range including parts of Asia and Africa, as well as being spread across Europe.

A male (dog) otter may use 20-40km of river, tributary streams and associated ponds and wetlands as its ‘home range’ (undefended territory). Females have much smaller ranges of 10-20km.

Within its home range an otter will use many resting-places, which may be used regularly or only occasionally. These may be holes amongst riverside tree roots, gaps in bank armouring, other animal burrows and a number of other protective structures. Otters will also rest above ground in patches of scrub and in undisturbed areas of tall grass or other similar tall vegetation. Both dog and female (bitch) otters produce spraints (faeces) to delineate territory.

Otters can breed at any time of year, a female otter gives birth to 1 to 3 (occasionally up to 5) cubs, after a pregnancy lasting approximately 60 days. The cubs are born blind and defenceless with only a covering of fine grey fur, in a secluded ‘natal holt’ (breeding den), which is often away from the main river in an undisturbed location. The mother may move the cubs to an alternative holt in response to disturbance. The cubs start venturing from the holt after about 2 months and are gradually weaned and taught to swim and hunt by the bitch. After about 12 months, when the cubs can fend for themselves, they leave the bitch and disperse to establish their own territories.