Devon Biodiversity Action Plan

Plants and Animals

Special to Devon!

The location of Devon.

European Otter
Lutra lutra

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Otters have a National Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) devoted to them,
as well as a local Species Action Plan within the Devon BAP. (More on Devon BAP here)


European Otters are sleek, silent hunters, moving with ease and grace through the waters of rivers, streams and coastal areas. They are the only otter species found in the wild in Britain. They also occur throughout Western Europe and into Asia. 

Otters are carnivorous mammals at the top of freshwater food chains. They need large areas of habitat with clean water and a plentiful food supply, mainly in the form of fish.

Otter tracks Each otter will have a particular area which it roams about, known as its 'range'. The less food there is within that range, the bigger the area has to be to allow the otter to survive.

In many areas, individual otters may need over 20 miles of river and other waterways in order to find enough food to live on. In others, where fish are especially plentiful, an otter's range may be as little as 2 square miles.

The number of otters in Britain declined alarmingly in the last half of the twentieth century. Much of this decline was due to increasing pollution of water courses and loss of suitable habitat. While otters are an aquatic animal, they spend a considerable amount of time on land as they roam from one part of their territory to another. They also rest and rear their young on land, usually in concealed tunnels in river banks. These otter resting places are known as 'holts'. Each otter will have several holts dotted about its territory.

Female otters rear their young on their own. The young otters will remain with her for about a year, learning all the skills they will need for life on their own. There may be 2 - 5 cubs in the litter, but usually only one or two will survive. After their first year they have to leave to set up their own home range somewhere else, often travelling great distances.

Otter numbers have increased in recent years. Many formerly polluted water courses have been cleaned up and large sections of riverbank habitat have been improved for otters. Otters are also protected by law. Their comeback has been particularly good in areas such as Devon, where they now occur on most water courses and wetlands. Because they are a nationally protected species, it is especially important to make sure that they continue to do well in the area. Otters therefore have their own Species Action Plan devoted to them in the overall Devon Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). (More on Devon BAP here)

The Lake at the Woodland Education Centre is a favourite stop for Otters. Otters are not resident at The Woodland Education Centre in Offwell, but they pass through on their way from one place to another, using it as a convenient stop along the way.

The Lake at the Centre (left) contains hundreds of fish, including Rudd, Trout and Eels. While there are not enough fish to sustain an Otter continuously, there are more than enough to provide a few meals.

Otters have been seen at the Centre, but as they are shy creatures, their presence is more often shown by signs such as flattened slides or paths in bankside vegetation where an otter has made its way into the water. The presence of 'spraint' is another good way to tell that an otter is in the area.

Otter spraint contains the bony remains of its food. Spraint is simply otter faeces. Otters use their spraint as a way to communicate with each other through odours. They leave it in prominent places where another otter would be likely to find it. One of the favourite places to leave it at the Centre is on the little jetty which sticks out into the Lake. 

The spraint is used to mark out an otter's home range. It also gives information to another otter such as whether the otter which produced it was a family member or not, as well as its sex and breeding condition.

Otters mainly eat fish, but will also eat a variety of other things depending on what is available and can be caught. Aquatic insects, frogs, small mammals and birds may also be on the menu. The bony remains of the otter's meals, including fish scales and bones, are usually clearly visible in the spraint.

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Brown Hare

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