Caring for otters at our places

Otter

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.

We care for habitats like this so otters can thrive
Two otters on a log

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. "
- Jim Bebbington, Volunteer Otter Expert at Stackpole

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.

We are working at Stackpole to ensure the otter population thrives

Otters at Stackpole, Pembrokeshire 

Otters were once very rare, but they are now doing well in the rich and protected environment around the Bosherston Lakes at Stackpole. You stand a good chance of seeing one in daytime, especially in the Eastern Arm of the lakes. Stackpole even has its own Otter expert – volunteer ranger Jim Bebbington – who leads guided wildlife walks around the estate.

One of Winchester City Mill's resident otters

Otters at Winchester City Mill, Hampshire 

You might not expect to find otters in the middle of an urban area, but these special creatures are regular visitors to Winchester City Mill. The Mill even has observation equipment in place to record their adventures, and visitors can enjoy clips from the archive or even watch the live feed of the river bank.

An otter looking out at the lake

Otters at Berrington Hall, Herefordshire 

The lake at Berrington is home to lots of wildlife, but some of them are more secretive than others. Fortunately there’s an 'otter cam' on site, which regularly catches images of the resident otters on their night time adventures. The team are working hard to conserve this habitat, in the hope that they’ll get even more sightings of these special creatures.

Otter slides into water

Otters at Penrose, Cornwall 

Staff and visitors at Penrose have had sporadic sightings of otters over last 20 years. In 2016 the team set up a camera and got proof that there was at least one otter in the area. Since then they’ve been hard at work improving the habitat for otters, and in autumn 2016 built a special otter holt with the help of volunteers.