Latin name: Lutra lutra
Otters are at the top of the river food chain, making them a good barometer of river health. With its playful, intelligent nature, the otter is a joy to watch. But being nocturnal; spotting this elusive creature isn’t always easy. In the water, its large lungs, webbed feet and streamlined body make it a powerful swimmer but otters also spend time on land, often building their holts under fallen trees or rocks.
River pollution led to a marked decline in the UK otter population during the twentieth century but recent improvements in water quality have led to healthier fish stocks and better breeding habitats. As a result, sightings have increased in recent years with appearances reported within every county in England.
It seems that although virtually unseen, otters are slowly spreading back into the Yorkshire Dales too with a rise in the number of otter spraints (droppings) reported along many of the county’s rivers. The otter is very territorial and uses its spraints to mark its territory at prominent places such as under bridges or on large stones. This provides a useful way to spot the presence of otters. If you do see evidence of otters, please let the Mammal Society know to help increase understanding of their national population.
Although sightings of otters are steadily growing, there is some way to go before numbers reach comfortable levels. It’s therefore important that the otter’s natural habitat continues to be protected so that the species can thrive once more.