Caring for otters at our places
Otters are one of the UK’s best conservation success stories of recent years. They nearly became extinct in some areas between the 1950s and 1970s, but thanks to efforts to improve water quality and increased protection they can now be found across the UK, including several of our special places.
Spot an otter
With numbers on the rise, the chances of spotting an otter have never been better. They’re nocturnal creatures so you’re most likely to see them at dusk and dawn, but they occasionally come out during the day in quiet locations. Otters prefer freshwater areas with good water quality, and our rangers work hard to maintain these habitats for them.
Otter territories can extend up to 40km along a stretch of water. They mark out these areas by leaving droppings, known as spraints, in strategic places such as underneath bridges, on top of grassy mounds on the bank, or on boulders in the middle of the stream. Otter spraint has a musty, jasmine smell.
If you don’t fancy sniffing droppings you can look out for tell-tale tracks instead, such as distinctive webbed toe prints in mud on the riverbank. Otters also create muddy slides down banks as places to play, and to provide easy access to the water.
Feeding and breeding
Otters are carnivorous mammals with diets based mainly on fish, supplemented with crustaceans and waterbirds. They’re well-adapted to life on the water as they have dense fur to keep them warm and can close both their ears and nose when underwater.
Otters’ webbed feet are their best asset, as they can spread them wide and use them as a paddle when swimming. If they need to move faster - for example when hunting fish - they sway their whole body from side to side to propel themselves through the water.
Otters have no specific breeding season, although in Britain most have their cubs in spring. The mother carries her young for nine weeks before giving birth to two or three cubs. Otters are blind until four or five weeks old, but become excellent swimmers by the time they’re 10 weeks old.
" Sometimes I get to see otter cubs play fighting in the lakes, or squabbling over an eel. Following their early morning tracks on the beach, or even finding fresh spraint on a stone are all sightings that will keep you coming back for more. "
Finding a good home
Otters are semi-aquatic and live in dens called ‘holts’ on water edges. Otters will sometimes dig their own holts, but they will also make use of existing structures like enlarged rabbit holes, cavities between tree roots and even man-made structures.
At several of our places, rangers and volunteers have been busy building holts for otters to use and making sure that the habitat is suitable for them. As a conservation charity, it's vital that we look after these places so that wildlife such as otters can continue to thrive.