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Otter (Lutra lutra)


Otters suffered serious decline between the 1950s and 1970s but are now making a comeback across the UK, including in Northamptonshire. The number of survey sites that were otter positive increased by 37% between 1991/94 and 2000/02. Before 2000/02 there was regular presence of otters at a low level, but the large increase in positive sites in recent years suggests that a breeding otter population is becoming established in the region.

Otter presence has been recorded in recent years along the River Nene from Weeden Bec to Oundle and on several smaller tributaries of the Nene, along the full length of the River Welland in Northamptonshire, and at a few locations on the Rivers Ise, Great Ouse, Willow Brook and at Pitsford Water. It seems that the county has been recolonised from the east and the population is therefore more established in the east of the county than the west.

(Image copyright: Stewart McDonald)

Current UK Status and Trends

2219 10km squares occupied, and population expanding in size and distribution.

Estimated Current Northants Resource

In 2002, 58% of surveyed sites on the River Nene had signs of otter presence, a significant increase since the early 1990s.

Progress Towards BAP Targets 2002-2007

Otter holts have been constructed at Stanford Reservoir, Summer Leys and Ditchford.

Lead Partner

The Environment Agency

Main Issues and Threats

  • High non-natural mortality, namely road-deaths where roads cross over or come in close proximity to watercourses.
  • Poor water quality causing direct ill effects in otters and preventing populations of fish from reaching high enough levels to support a resident population.
  • Otters are drowned in fyke nets, which are set to catch eels.
  • Wetland and other semi-natural habitat adjacent to watercourses has been lost to development, agricultural intensification, and drainage operations, reducing the availability of suitable resting and breeding habitat.

General Strategy

  • It is expected that range expansion will occur through natural recolonisation, with conservation priorities being monitoring the continued recovery, addressing any direct threats such as roadkill and persecution, and monitoring the health of the population through post-mortem and tissue analysis.
  • Improve road bridges over watercourses to allow otters to pass safely underneath during times of flood and deter them from crossing over roads. This can be achieved by constructing high-level culverts under roads, inserting dry ledges under bridges, and placing fencing and reflectors along the road.
  • Improve the water quality of rivers, streams and canals to assist fish populations.
  • Raise awareness of the danger posed to otters by fyke nets.
  • Promote suitable management of watercourses and adjacent habitat (wet woodland, scrub, wetland, riverside trees), funded primarily through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (Advice can be provided by The Wildlife Trust, RNRP or FWAG).
  • The specific target areas are the catchments of the River Nene, Welland, and Ise. The south and west of the county are under-surveyed compared to other areas, so an understanding of otter distribution in these regions (River Tove, Cherwell and tributaries) is required.

Associated BAP Habitats

  • Eutrophic Standing Waters
  • Reedbed
  • Rivers and Streams
  • Wet Woodland

Specific Management Required for Associated Habitats


Management Prescriptions

Key Sites

Eutrophic Standing Waters

Maintain high water quality standards; retain undisturbed areas of open water, bank and behind bank habitat.

Stamford reservoir, Pitsford reservoir, Nene Valley gravel pits, canals.


Establish high edge/reed ratios and healthy fish populations.

Stanwick Lakes, Nene Valley reedbeds.

Rivers and Streams

Maintain high water quality standards; retain undisturbed areas of bank and behind bank habitat.

All rivers and streams.

Wet Woodland

Retain fallen dead wood in undisturbed areas near to rivers and streams.



Target Code

Target Type

Target Description

Target Units

Northants Baseline Resource



Unit Cost £

Total Cost £


Maintain Extent (Range)

Maintain the current distribution (22 occupied 10km squares) of the otter throughout Northamptonshire.

Occupied 10 km Squares


No Net Loss




Expansion (Range)

Encourage the natural expansion of otter distribution to achieve 85% occupancy of 10 km squares by 2015.

Occupied 10 km Squares






Action Code

Action Description

Lead Partner

Support Partner(s)

Related Target


Encourage the formation of an otter group by 2009 that can implement structured otter surveying within Northamptonshire.

The Wildlife Trust

Environment Agency



Identify black spots on roads that cause otter fatalities through road accidents and report every 3 years.

Highways Agency, NCC/Highways Authority

Environment Agency, NBRC



Install safety improvements such as high-level culverts or ledges at the sites identified in action A2.

Local Authorities, Highways Agency

Environment Agency



Ensure that new infrastructure developments incorporate the needs of otters, e.g. passes under new roads. These measures should be implemented on all river catchments in anticipation of the otter population expanding.

Local Authorities, WNDC, NNDC

Environment Agency, Natural England



Report all dead otters to the records center and the EA and send all recoverable dead otters for post-mortem at Cardiff University.

Environment Agency




Protect natural holt sites from the adverse impacts of development and habitat degradation.

Environment Agency

The Wildlife Trust



Manage watercourses and associated habitats to ensure an abundance of ground cover to reduce disturbance and provide resting sites. Plant reedbeds and allow scrub encroachment. Erect fencing to reduce disturbance.

Environment Agency




Create 5 holts in suitable habitats along riverbanks by 2015.

Environment Agency

The Wildlife Trust



By 2010 ensure otter guards are placed on all licensed eel and crayfish traps.

Environment Agency