All about otters
The inquisitive, playful otter is one of Britain’s best known and loved wild animals. Up until the 1970’s otters were found throughout Britain. They subsequently all but disappeared from most counties in England, primarily due to water pollution and loss of habitat. Happily, in the last few years conservation efforts have started to show very encouraging results and they are staging a strong comeback, being spotted more and more often.
What to look for
Otters are superbly adapted for living in and around wet places. They have webbed feet, streamlined bodies, thick, rudder-like tails and dense fur for waterproofing, which is brown above and cream on the belly and chin. The body is 55-90cm long and the tail 30-50cm. They weigh between 5 and 10kg.
Did you know?
- Otters are superb swimmers and divers and use two methods to move in the water. For swimming slowly they use their webbed feet, spread very wide like a paddle. For swimming fast, perhaps to catch a fish, they sway their whole body from side to side to propel them through the water.
- Otters mostly eat fish, frogs, water birds, small mammals and crustaceans, such as crayfish. They have to eat 1-1.5kg of food each day.
- Most otters in Britain breed in spring, although those in northern Scotland may also breed in the autumn. The mother carries her young for nine weeks before giving birth to two or three cubs. The cubs are blind until four or five weeks old, but by 10 weeks are able to swim. They do not live independently until around 13-15 months old. Until then they are looked after only by their mother. Otters have been known to live up to 10 years, but most do not reach the age of five.
- Each otter will mark out its own territory along a large stretch of water (20-40km) with vegetation for cover, and plenty of fish to eat. Along this range, the otter will make several homes in the river bank in special dens known as ‘holts’. As part of the effort to conserve otters, artificial holts are sometimes created in an attempt to attract them into areas from which they have disappeared.
- An artificial otter holt has been constructed at Attenborough Nature Reserve, following multiple sightings of otters in the area. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is also helping to educate and advise landowners, fishing bodies and schools, encouraging them to help in the return of the otter to our rivers. The Trust runs an Adopt an Otter scheme where you can help with funding to protect their habitat. If you would like more information, please contact the Adopt a Species team on 0115 9588242.
Urban WildPlaces - amazing wildlife is closer than you think
More amazing footage from the North East Wildlife Trusts Urban WildPlaces project. Catch an otter relaxing on an urban quay with traffic speeding past, a badger sett in the dead of night, hedghogs and foxes, and a curious otter in an urban back garden.
The film was taken as part of the North East Wildlife Trusts WildPlaces project, aiming to raise awareness of urban wildlife. If you like this film…
Although the otter was virtually eliminated from England in the twentieth century, improvements in river quality and availability of food, as well as conservation schemes have produced a continuing recovery in numbers and distribution.
Otters live very near to or in undisturbed waters where there is plenty of cover. This includes freshwater lakes, rivers, and some smaller streams and increasingly in small ponds and ditches. They can also be found along some parts of the coast.
Where to see
Otters can be seen in a range of freshwater locations where there is good water quality. As they are nocturnal, they are most likely to be seen from dusk to dawn, but they can sometimes be found out and about during the day in quiet, undisturbed locations. Even with the increased numbers it is still not easy to see an otter. However, a very good sign that they are present is small, dark piles of their droppings, known as spraints, left on the track beside the water. Mink are often mistaken for otters, as there are similarities in appearance and are more active in daylight, so more easily seen.