The European otter was close to extinction in Britain, in the 1950s and 1960s because of pesticides affecting their breeding. They can now be found in every county in England and Wales, thanks to bans on harmful pesticides, improvements to their habitats and better legal protection.
Where do otters live?
Otters spend most of their time in rivers, ponds and wetland habitats. You might also see them swimming and hunting at sea.
They’re very good at hunting underwater and mostly eat fish, shellfish, crustaceans, as well as some small mammals, amphibians and birds. They can eat up to a kilogram of food each day.
Although otters are usually active at night, it’s becoming more common to see them out during daytime too.
Are otters protected by law?
Otters are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. This means it’s an offence to wilfully kill, injure, capture or disturb otters except under licence.
It’s also illegal to damage, destroy or stop them from accessing their breeding sites or shelters, even if the otters aren’t currently using them, or to disturb them while they’re sheltering somewhere. However, it is possible for licences to be granted to allow development work to go ahead even if they would affect otters or their habitats - find out more from Natural England.
Found a sick or injured otter?
This can be a very dangerous situation, so please don't try to handle the otter as it may bite you and anyone else trying to help it - please don't put yourself at risk.
Watch from a distance
If you can, watch the otter from a distance to see if it's still alive. If the animal moves away, watch where it goes and try to stay with it. But don’t try to stop the otter moving or catch it, as it will be very stressed and might cause you or itself further injury. Don't try to feed it or give it water.
Who to report them to
It’s not easy to tell if an otter is sick or injured, but you may be able to see open wounds on their head or body. It’s also sadly common for otters to be hit by cars, so you may see them on the side of a road too. If you find a dead otter, please report it to the Otter Project who monitor the health of our otters.
Contact us to report a sick or injured otter.
Found a baby otter?
Baby otters are called cubs. Cubs can be born at any time of year, and there’s usually two or three cubs in a litter. They’ll start emerging from the den at about three months old, but they still rely on their mother for food and will stay with her until they’re a year old.
If you see an otter cub on its own, watch it from a distance first. If the cub has their eyes closed, then they’re too young to be above ground on their own so contact us straight away.
If the cub has their eyes open and they seem alert and healthy, then come back after 24 hours, or at least overnight, to see if the mother has returned. If the otter cub is still on its own, contact us for help.
Don’t try and rescue the cub yourself as they can still have a sharp bite, and don’t try and look after it as they need very specialist care to survive. Their rehabilitation at a wildlife centre can take up to a year before they’re ready to be released back into the wild.
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