Otters are now widespread accross the country once more, found in a variety of watercourses and waterbodies (from small streams to large lakes. Although they are large mammals, they can be hard to see during the day....
Otter Legal Status
Otters are a European Protected Species and therefore the animals and their resting places are protected against damage destruction of disturbance....
Otter Licencing and Mitigation
Work that may affect otter habitat can be permitted under the rekevant licence from the Statutory Nature Conservation Organistation....
In order to establish whether works will affect otters or otter habitat then a survey will be required. SK Environmental Solutions have extensive experience with otter surveys....
After their numbers were depleted in the 20th century, otters populations have now recovered significantly and they are now widespread across the UK and can now be found in all English counties once more. Being partly aquatic, otters are closely linked to watercourses and waterbodies, such as rivers and lakes. However, as a large mammal, they are highly adept at travelling on land and will therefore often venture away from waterbodies, especially to reach other feeding grounds.
Otters feed almost exclusively on aquatic animals, such as invertebrates (including white-clawed crayfish), fish and amphibians, as well as small mammals and birds. Diet analysis of otter spraints (droppings) has revealed that they will even prey as large as rabbits and as small as water snails. Food does depend greatly on local availability; in Kendal, where the SK Environmental Solutions office is based, the local otters feed predominantly on white-clawed crayfish (a protected UK species!).
Otter dens are called 'holts' and are often hollows, or tunnels under a river bank. These may be natural systems, such as cavities under mature tree roots, or may be artificial tunnels, such as culverts or storm drains. However, much of an otters time is spent in couches or lay-ups. These are farm more informal resting places, and may just be an area of flattened reeds, or a secluded patch of grass, away from disturbance.
Otter Legal Status
Otters are a European Protected Species (EPS) and are protected under UK law through Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) .
It is therefore against the law to:
capture, kill, disturb or injure otters;
damage or destroy a breeding or resting place;
obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places; or
possess, sell, control or transport live or dead otters, or parts of otters.
If found guilty of an offence, the penalty can be an unlimited fine and up to 6 months in prison.
In addition, the legislation makes these Absolute Offences, meaning that ignorance is not an excuse and therefore persons can be convicted of negligent behaviour in the same way as intentional offences.
Otter Survey Methodology
Otter surveys can be carried out at any time of the year, as otters are active all year round. However, mid-summer is not the best time to carry out otter surveys, as the vegetation can be too dense to provide access or to allow for detailed inspections of banks.
An preliminary otter survey requires a detailed inspection of a watercourse or water body to search for otters or evidence of otters. Evidence can be found in the form of:
Otter holts (dens);
Couches or lying-up areas;
Otter spraints (faeces);
Otter foot prints;
Feeding remains; or
Otter slides (flattened areas where otters access the water).
In addition, the surveyor will use experience and ecological knowledge to assess the habitat for otter potential. This will also be based on the prior research of otter populations in the area.
If evidence of otters is found then a secondary survey may be required, to quantify the level of otter presence in the area, especially if a natal otter holt (breeding area) is suspected, or if the proposed works are likely to impact on the watercourse or waterbody in some way. This is likely to include the use of remote camera traps and crepuscular otter activity surveys (night-time activity surveys).
Otter Licensing and Mitigation
As otters are a European Protected Species (EPS), work which would have a significant negative impact on the welfare or favourable conservation status of any individual or population of otters, would require a European Protected Species development licence from the Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural Resources Wales or Northern Ireland Environment Agency).
In order for the relevant SNCO to issue the EPS licence, you would need to provide sufficient evidence that the development is necessary, either through ‘Preserving public health or public safety‘ or for ‘Imperative reasons of overriding public interest‘.
An otter mitigation plan or method statement would be produced as part of the application to show mitigation will minimise the impacts to the local otter population.
Otter mitigation is likely to include methods such as timings of works, creation of otter habitat elsewhere, creation of artificial holts to provide continued resting places, or access routes under roads etc.
SK Environmental Solutions provide advice and assistance to construct these areas, including liaising with the ground staff to ensure a successful end product.