Otters can be found in all types of wetland habitats, including rivers, streams, marshes, ditches and lakes, as well as coastal areas and their large home ranges may incorporate a variety of habitat types.
The otter suffered a dramatic decline in numbers during the middle of the 20th Century, which was attributed to pollution and habitat loss. Following conservation efforts and legislation including restrictions on certain chemical pesticides and fertilisers, populations of otters are now making a slow recovery throughout the UK.
Otters are strictly protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and by the EC Habitats Directive, transposed into domestic law through the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. Under the Habitats Regulations otters are classed as a European Protected Species and therefore given the highest level of protection. The legislation makes it an offence to kill, injure or disturb an otter and to destroy any place used for rest or shelter by an otter. Additional protection is also provided by the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000. Otters are also listed as a Priority Species in the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.
In order to avoid a breach of the legislation, as well as to satisfy Local Planning Authorities, it is important that any works directly affecting or within close proximity to waterbodies are preceded by an otter survey to determine presence or presumed absence of this species and any specific mitigation that will be legally required by the Local Planning Authority.
Otter surveys can be undertaken throughout the year.
The survey will be carried out by an experienced ecologist and an assistant following the standard methodology. This involves a search for: droppings (spraints), footprints, feeding remains, lying-up areas, holts (permanent places of rest and shelter) and areas of habitat considered suitable for otters.
Following the Survey
Following completion of the otter survey, a report would be produced, detailing the survey methodology and results, as well as general mitigation measures and licensing requirements. This would be suitable for submission with a planning application. The report will be provided as soon as possible following the survey, however; should you have a specific date for submission of a planning application we will do our utmost to accommodate this.
Licensing and Mitigation
Should an otter holt or laying up site be present within or in close proximity to a development site, where it is likely that the otters will be either disturbed or harmed, a licence from Natural England may be required. As part of the licence, detailed mitigation will be required to ensure minimal impacts on the species.
Should a licence be required, EMEC Ecology can apply for this on your behalf. EMEC Ecology has the ability to design and implement site specific mitigation that will be suitable for a planning application.
Timing of Works
It may be possible to carry out the works during daylight hours only, in order to avoid disruption to the otter's nocturnal movement.
Creation of an Artificial Otter Holt
An artificial holt may be created as replacement or compensation for disturbance to existing otter habitats. This can be done in a variety of ways, using a variety of materials, such as logs, rough stones, breezeblocks, bricks and plastic pipes. It is important that the holt is located in appropriate habitat and EMEC Ecology can advise on all aspects of artificial holt construction. Our Land Management team can design and construct these artificial holts for you.
Habitat creation can form an important part of otter mitigation. It can be important in the construction of new roads or bridges, when a safe passage for otter should be ensured, to minimise mortality from vehicle collisions. Additionally, existing habitats can be enhanced by planting to provide good potential cover for otters.
Otter EPS Licence and Mitigation, Newark, Nottinghamshire
A large otter mitigation scheme was designed following the discovery of an otter laying-up site and several sprainting sites in close proximity to works, which would cause large scale disturbance and disruption to the banks of the River Trent. The mitigation involved carrying out works during the day only, to avoid interruptions to the nocturnal movements of otters along the river. The sprainting and laying-up areas were also fenced off during the works to avoid transgression of machinery into these sensitive areas. An existing outfall pipe was also converted into an artificial holt site. The planting scheme associated with the new development was also designed to provide additional cover for otters as well as to act as a buffer between the otter's habitat and the development site.