Otter, Lutra lutra. An exciting event when seen around our rivers, the return of the otter to most of England is one of the major conservation success stories of the last 30 years. It is rarely observed in the wild but it is however possible to detect where it has been – likely sites are searched for otter signs such as paw prints or spraint (droppings). However in Barnsley there is someway to go.
What we want to do…. Our key objectives …
This involves ensuring that riparian habitat has:
Otter, Lutra lutra is a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan 2007 (UKBAP)
Otter remains a Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act (2006).
As such it is a national priority species for Biodiversity 2020.
It is a local priority species for Barnsley because of its national status and local interest.
The otter is listed on Appendix I of CITES, Appendix III of the Bern Convention and Annexes III and IV of the Habitats Directive.
The sub-species in Eurpope is listed as globally threatened on the IUCN/WCMC Red Data List.
Otters are a European Protected Species and fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to
Otters need to be taken into consideration by any public body in managing their estate (section 41 NERC Act (2006))
The decline in numbers.
Formerly widespread throughout the country the Otter underwent a rapid decline for the 1950s to the 1970s, leaving the species absent from most of England.
Of the 2,940 sites surveyed in England in 1977-79, only 170 (5.8%) showed evidence of otters.
Otters are now returning to many areas through natural re-colonisation, assisted in some areas by re-introductions.
Surveys now show that more than half the sites across England bore signs of otter, up from a third eight years ago and a ten-fold increase on 30 years ago.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan target is to restore breeding otters to all river catchments where they were present before 1960.
Historically otters were found throughout Yorkshire but were nearly lost from the county by the 1980s. South Yorkshire was particularly badly affected.
However increases in evidence of otter activity have now been recorded in all parts of Yorkshire.
Surveys for otters in Barnsley confirmed evidence of occasional otter activity along the Dearne valley and there has also been evidence of activity on a tributary of the river Don in the west of the borough.
Factors causing loss or decline
A catchment-wide approach is essential to otter conservation. The main drivers for increases in the numbers of otters have been reductions in levels of toxic pesticides, improvements in water quality, and increases in fish stocks. Maintaining fish populations in rivers where otters have returned needs careful management until a balance is restored.
There needs to be sufficient bankside vegetation and undisturbed scrub cover.
Secure, undisturbed breeding sites and lying-up/resting sites are essential if otters are to establish and maintain sustainable populations. One such ‘lying-in’ site is needed approximately every kilometre of watercourse.
Breeding sites and resting places can either be in a hole in a bank or above-ground in a flattened area of vegetation.
Actions and mitigation to improve things for otters:
Land and waterbody owners and managers, including Barnsley Council, Environment Agency, and other public bodies and utility companies, private companies, charitable trusts, fishing clubs, and individuals: follow best practice in managing rivers and streams, their banks, and neighbouring open water, wetlands and wet woodlands, to support otters.
Wildlife conservation bodies: give advice and provide practical support for habitat management for otters.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust with Landfill Communities funding: advises land-owners and improves habitats for otter.
Barnsley Council as planning authority:
ensures otter is protected through the planning process; sets conditions in relevant planning applications to ensure that relevant habitats are maintained and enhanced; takes into consideration records of otter presence.
Voluntary groups and volunteers: help with information about the condition of sites that support otter and provide records of sightings and signs of otter; help with measures to support otter, eg: otter holts, habitat management.
General information: The otter is a large member of the stoat and weasel family that frequents rivers, streams, lakes and marshes.
Otters are easily distinguished from the smaller mink: giving a general impression of being dog-sized whereas mink are at most cat-sized.
Otters have a broad, flat muzzle and a long tapering tail which is thick at the base. They have small ears and eyes on a flattish head. Their coat is mainly brown with a lighter brown bib, and spiky when wet.
They swim very flat on the water surface and when they dive their long tail flips over and can be seen clearly. They have a high pitched squeak when calling to other otters and a loud chatter when threatening.
The otter can live for up to 10 years and produce an average of two babies per litter. Young stay with their parents for about 18 months and become fully mature in two years,
Otters are opportunistic hunters that will take a wide range of prey, but mainly feed on fish. The otter is a top predator and, as such, it occurs at a naturally low density. A male otter may use up to 40km of watercourse. This would include main rivers as well as smaller tributaries, along with ponds, lakes, riverside woodland and wetlands.
Otters require a plentiful food supply. Eels are often particularly favoured. Amphibians and Crayfish may be locally or seasonally important, and small mammals and birds are occasionally taken.
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Further information + advice
Natural England advice
Natural England information
Natural England information
Forestry Commission advice
Highways Agency standards