In Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006), the Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) is classified as rare and most threatened species. On the IUCN Red List, the species is listed as near threatened. As such, they are designated and protected as a European protected species (EPS), prioritized in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), and fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
Eurasian Otters are widespread throughout the UK, with the best chance to have a sighting being in Scotland, the west coast of Wales, East Anglia, and Southwest England.
Eurasian Otters love to spend their time in a variety of wetland habitats such as rivers, canals, and lakes, where they feed mainly on fish and crustaceans. Their survival depends on the presence of riverbanks, tree roots, shrubby thickets, and rocky crevices, which they use to make their burrows, known as holts, for their pups.
Eurasian Otters are usually solitary animals, with territories that can be as large as 25 miles! The exception is when they form mating pairs, with newborn pups demanding constant attention from their mother for 6 months until they learn the necessary skills to survive. Interestingly, pups also can’t dive underwater until they grow into their adult fur, as a pup’s fur is far too dense.
What Caused the Decline of Otters?
As a result of pollution and habitat destruction, the population of European Otters suddenly and rapidly declined following the mid-20th century. In just 50 years, this led to the species completely vanishing from most rivers of central and Southern England. To make matters worse, otters breed slowly, and their populations are fragmented, which means they take a long time to recover from a population drop. However, the future of the species is more promising. As a result of conservation efforts such as reintroducing captive otters to their former habitats, in areas of the UK the species are extending their range with local populations increasing.
Why are Otters so Important?
As if protecting Eurasian Otters for their own sake isn’t enough, they are also of huge importance when it comes to maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Otters are at the top of the food chain, therefore without them, their prey populations would increase and eventually become over abundant. This in turn would cause a destruction of wetland vegetation further down the food chain and disrupt important nutrient cycling. This knock-on effect is called a trophic cascade. Furthermore, as otters are so dependent on good water quality for survival in a variety of wetland habitats, they are great environmental indicators.
The Retained EU Law Bill threatens to destroy the homes of our Eurasian Otters. Learn more here!