The British otter is also known as the European or Eurasian otter because of its vast geographical distribution. Lutra lutra has historically occupied a broad range from Ireland in the west to Japan in the east and the arctic north to the semi-desert of North Africa. Within this range there are 10 recognised subspecies. However today it is scarce or totally absent from many parts of this range as a result of the usual environmental problems namely hunting, habitat loss and pollution.
The British population is now increasing and one of the largest in Europe. They tend to be found along rivers, streams, lakes and marshes as well as around certain coastlines. Although they do swim and feed in the sea they are not sea otters. The genuine Sea Otter is a different species found off the west coast of North America.
The otter has a large territory that may be over 10 miles for a dog otter depending on the food supply and cover that it affords. Within this territory the otter will live in dens that are called holts. These are to be found mostly along river banks under rocks or amongst the root systems of trees for example. Otter habitat is not exclusive to dens, and it is also known in quiet undisturbed areas, for them to sleep above ground in what are known as couches, made from reeds or grass.
The otter is one of Britain's largest carnivores and a male otter may weigh over 15kg although females are somewhat lighter. They have short legs with a long tail and body, which leans forward when walking. This gives rise to the classic arched back outline of an otter travelling on land.
The otter in Great Britain has made a remarkable comeback in the wild over the past 25 years. They are now to be found in just about every river system in the country after almost being totally lost as a result of hunting, habitat loss and pollution in the 1960's and 1970's. The reurn in the otter is attributed to the hard work and dedication of numerous environmental groups and organisations over the years and also to the cleaner water to be found in our river systems which of course benefits all wildlife. There are still problems, death on the road is the major cause of unnatural death in otters now and as thier numbers return to levels not seen for many years there are conflicts developing between some angling groups who see the otter as an inreasing pest and threat to their sport by taking too many fish.
Otters though make wonderful environmental indicators and sitting at the top of the food chain thier presence or abscense gives a good idea of the health of the countryside.
To see an otter in the wild is always a priveledge and for many a once in a lifetime experience.