Why survey otters?

Otters (Lutra lutra) were once widespread along the waterways of the UK, but suffered severe declines in the 1960s and 1970s due to pollution - in particular the widespread use of organochlorine pesticides - as well as loss and fragmentation of their habitats due to changing farming practices and urban development.

Otter (c) Peter Trimming
Image (c) Peter Trimming

This decline was exacerbated by persecution - hunting otters with dogs was legal until 1978 - causing remaining populations to become largely restricted to the north and west of the country, in Scotland and Wales.

Otters are still scarce in England, but recent surveys have suggested that populations are now recovering and that the species is recolonising parts of its former range. This has been, at least in part, due to bans on some agricultural chemicals and the removal of lead from petrol.

However, otters still face many threats today. These include continued loss and degradation of habitat, but also from collisions with vehicles when crossing roads, and deliberate persecution or accidental drowning in fishnets and crayfish traps.

In addition, climate change could pose a new threat to this species as sudden, heavy storms, which are expected to increase in frequency with climate change, could destroy areas of suitable habitat.

Otter (c) Peter Trimming
Image (c) Peter Trimming 

Like elsewhere in England, otter populations have increased around the Peak District and South Pennines in recent years, but positive records remain very patchily distributed. Along with Kent and the south east, this area appears to be one of the last to be recolonised.  

The continuation of monitoring is therefore important - to track changes in their distribution which are predicted to occur if their populations continue to recover.

By joining up with existing surveys by organisations including the Environment Agency (EA), Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and Sheffield Wildlife Trust, 'Tails of the Uplands' aims to fill in the gaps, continue coverage of selected EA National Otter Survey for England locations, and record how far into the uplands and moorlands otters may be found as they move into or pass through the area. 

For more information on otter ecology, identification and surveying please see our links and further reading page. For more about the history and status of otters in Derbyshire see the Derbyshire Mammal Group page

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