Formerly widespread throughout the UK, the otter underwent a rapid decline in numbers from the 1950s to 1970s and was effectively lost from midland and south-eastern counties of England by the 1980s. Populations remain in Wales, south-west England and much of Scotland, where sea loch and coastal colonies comprise one of the largest populations in Europe. There is also a significant population of otters in Northern Ireland. The decline now appears to have halted and sightings are being reported in former habitats.
The otter is listed on Appendix 1 of CITES, Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive. It is protected under Schedule 5 of the WCA 1981 and Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations, 1994 (Regulation 38). The European sub-species is also listed as globally threatened on the IUCN/WCMC RDL.
Current factors causing loss or decline
Pollution of watercourses, especially by PCBs.
Insufficient prey associated with poor water quality.
Impoverished bankside habitat features needed for breeding and resting.
Incidental mortality, primarily by road deaths and drowning in eel traps.
The JNCC has prepared a Framework for Otter Conservation in the UK 1995-2000.
National surveys have been conducted every five to seven years. Local surveys by Wildlife Trusts and other organisations have established the present distribution and potential for future spread in many areas.
Research is in progress on the implications of heavy metal and PCB contamination in fish and ecosystems.
Conservation management (for example creating log piles and artificial holts, and designation of "otter havens") has proved successful in many river catchments.
The Habitat Scheme Water Fringe Option administered by MAFF is being used to manage waterside habitat in six pilot areas. MAFF also provides advice on creating otter havens on set-aside.
FA and FE promote sensitive woodland management and expansion to favour otters, through preparation and implementation of their Forest and Water Guidelines, e.g. managing riparian areas with deciduous trees and shrubs mixed with open grassland and wetland habitat
, and the prevention of sediments and other pollution.
Two SACs have been proposed for this species under the EC Habitats Directive.
Action plan objectives and targets
Maintain existing otter populations.
Expand existing otter populations.
By 2010, restore breeding otters to all catchments and coastal areas where they have been recorded since 1960.
Proposed actions with lead agencies
Policy and legislation
Seek to secure agreement on the UK Framework for Otter Conservation. (ACTION: JNCC)
Seek to ensure management agreements and incentive schemes (e.g.: ESAs, Countryside Stewardship and Tir Cymen) take account of the requirements of otters in occupied areas. (ACTION: DANI, MAFF, SOAEFD, WOAD)
Seek to determine by 2000 Statutory Water Quality Objectives for standing and running waters in Britain which will sustain otters. (ACTION: DoE, NRA, OFWAT, SEPA, SOAEFD, Water Services Association, WO)
Review the protection afforded to otters by current legislation and investigate the usefulness and appropriateness of licensing to control release of otters. (ACTION: CCW, DoE, NE, JNCC, SNH)
Identify and resolve problems with existing legislation. Seek to clarify the definition of "trap" in the WCA 1981 and resolve inconsistencies over the use of otter guards on fishtraps. (ACTION: CCW, DoE, NE, JNCC, SNH)
Site safeguard and management
Seek to include action for otters in Catchment Management Plans for all rivers containing otter populations by 2005, including "otter havens" in relevant areas. (ACTION: DANI, NRA, SEPA, MAFF, WOAD)
Continue to secure appropriate management of riparian habitats and catchments in woodlands to maintain or enhance otter populations. (ACTION: FA)
Produce catchment based local habitat management plans identifying key areas for restoration and enhancement (ACTION:EA).
Species management and protection
Seek to establish an "Otter Forum" to co-ordinate conservation, information exchange, publicity and research. (ACTION: JNCC)
Ensure otter releases are carried out only under the guidelines set out in the Framework for Otter Conservation. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, SNH, JNCC)
Attempt to limit accidental killing or injury (for example by provision of road underpasses and dyke net guards), particularly on key catchments. (ACTION: DoE(NI), DOT, LAs, NRA, SEPA)
Ensure the provision of information on otter requirements and conservation to key groups, to include land owners, through the publication of posters and guidelines. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, FA, SNH)
Future Research and Monitoring
Collate information on prey productivity, biomass and pollution in occupied and likely re-colonisation areas. (ACTION: DANI, DoE(NI), ITE, JNCC, NRA, SEPA, SOAEFD, WOAD)
Develop a standard methodology to analyse the level of pollution accumulation in otters. (ACTION: DANI, DoE(NI), JNCC, NRA, SEPA, SOAEFD, WOAD)
Investigate the effects of disturbance on otter populations. (ACTION: DoE(NI), JNCC, NRA, SEPA)
Develop and implement methods to estimate otter numbers and permit population modelling. (ACTION: DoE(NI), JNCC, NRA, SEPA)
Monitor populations and distribution of otters throughout the UK, including local survey to monitor the expansion of fringe populations. (ACTION: JNCC)
Pass information gathered during survey and monitoring of this species to JNCC in order that it can be incorporated in a national database and contribute to the maintenance of an up-to-date Red List. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, SNH)
Develop a methodology for identifying otter breeding areas and produce guidelines for the protection and creation of breeding habitat. (ACTION: CCW, EA, NE, SEPA, SNH).
Communications and Publicity
Use this popular species to publicise the importance of water quality and riparian habitats to biodiversity. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, FA, JNCC, SNH, NRA, SEPA)
Links with other action plans
Originally published in: Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report - Volume II: Action Plans (December 1995, Tranche 1, Vol 2, p84)