Otters and Water Voles

Otters –

The European otter is the only native UK otter species. It’s a European protected species (EPS) and is also fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

You’re breaking the law if you:

  • capture, kill, disturb or injure otters (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • damage or destroy a breeding or resting place (deliberately or by not taking enough care)
  • obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places (deliberately or by not taking enough care)
  • possess, sell, control or transport live or dead otters, or parts of otters

If you’re found guilty of an offence you could get an unlimited fine and up to 6 months in prison.


When is an Otter survey required?

If the any of the following statements are true, an Otter survey will most likely be expected by the LPA

  • distribution and historical records suggest otters may be present
  • the development will affect a water body (eg river, stream, lake, sea or marshland)
  • development will affect habitats near a water body directly or through environmental impacts, eg noise, light, dogs, human activity
  •  It’s a large development close to where otters it might reasonable be expected

Additionally, the LPA can request a survey to demonstrate that they have considered potential impacts upon otters.

 Survey methods

Surveys should be done by a suitably experienced surveyor. They might also have to be a licensed surveyor.

Look for evidence of otters, including:

  • dung (spraints)
  • tracks (footprints)
  • feeding remains
  • otter slides (into water)
  • holts (underground dens)
  • couches (above ground sites where otters rest during the day)

You can survey at any time of year, but the best time is spring. This is because evidence is often easier to find during spring, as water levels recede and wet mud is exposed where paw prints can be seen more easily.

You might not need to do detailed survey work if avoidance and mitigation measures are built into development proposals, but you must provide enough information in the survey to understand:

  • what kinds of impacts there might be on otters and how the impacts might affect otters

Otter activity varies according to the season. You might need to do several surveys throughout the year to establish how big the impacts are and what mitigation measures might be necessary. How many surveys you’ll need to do depends on –


Assessing the impacts

Otters are highly territorial animals with large home ranges. Depending on the quality of the habitat and availability of food males can range along rivers for 35km. Otters will continue to try and use routes if alternatives are not included in a mitigation strategy. Impacts to consider include:

  • habitat loss or degradation in or near water bodies
  • habitats being cut off and becoming fragmented
  • holts and resting places being removed
  • disturbance to resting and feeding places
  • disturbing their usual routes, eg road bridge or culvert works forcing otters to use roads or bridges that might mean it’s more likely that otters will be killed or injured on the road
  • changes to water quality which could also affect food source

Mitigation will be expected by the LPA to offset the impacts.

Water Voles –

Water voles receive full legal protection through its inclusion in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) in respect of section 9 as well as the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000. This section of the Act makes it illegal to intentionally kill, injure, or capture a water vole; possess or control alive or dead water voles, or any part of a water vole or anything derived from a water vole; intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy, or obstruct access to any structure or place which a water vole uses for shelter or protection; intentionally or recklessly disturb a water vole while it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for shelter or protection.


Water voles are closely associated with fresh water habitats, generally slow-flowing, less than 3 m wide and approximately 1 m deep, including rivers, ditches, lakes and canals.  They favour steep banks, which need to be suitable for burrowing and well vegetated.  Their diet is almost exclusively vegetarian, including grasses, reeds and other herbaceous vegetation.

The methodology involves an assessment of both banks of all the water courses/ditches running through and around the site. This is often achieved by walking in the water course and having surveyors on the banks too.

A search would be made for possible signs of water vole activity including:

  • Sightings – confirmed sighting of a water vole during the survey.
  • Latrines – collections of droppings that are 8-12mm long, 4-5mm wide, cylindrical with blunt ends, green/brown/black and have no odour.
  • Burrows – holes along the water’s edge and in the bank above that are wider than high with a diameter of 4-8cm.
  • Footprints – four toes in a star arrangement from the fore foot and five toes from the hind foot with the outer ones splayed and measuring 26-34mm from heel to claw.
  • Pathways in vegetation – low runs or tunnels 5-10cm wide pushed through the   vegetation leading to the water’s edge, burrow entrances or favoured feeding areas.
  •  Feeding remains – neat piles of chewed lengths of vegetation up to 10cm long and with 45 degree cuts to their ends. Only green vegetation should be used as a sign of recent water vole presence.
  • Cropped grass around tunnel entrances – vegetation nursing females on the nest graze vegetation around the burrow entrance short to form a ‘lawn’

Please contact us for a site specific quotation –

Please call us on 0800 888 6846 / 07736 458609