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Find out more about our European projects (Helping Otters in Europe)

Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra)

The Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) is the only species found in Europe and its population is very depleted. In some western countries it has become extinct.

For more information click below:

IOSF European Conferences

2000 - Otter Toxicology Conference

2003 - The Return of the Otter in Europe - Where and How?

Albania

Species: Eurasian Otter

Otters are widespread throughout the country.

Legal protection: None - legally hunted for fur

Threats: habitat destruction, water pollution, hunting and persecution by fishermen.

Andora

Species: Eurasian Otter

Extinct

Austria

Species: Eurasian Otter

Population seems to be expanding.

Legal protection: Fully protected since 1947

Threats: In early 2017 it was announced that 40 otters were to be culled in Lower Austria, in spite of the legal protection. The purpose was to appease fishermen who claim that otters are responsible for decreases in fish stocks. The matter was referred to the European parliament but at present (August 2017) there has been no decision. The Austrian authorities have also given no information on if any have been killed and if so how many.

Belarus

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widespread throughout the country with decreases in population to the south-west of the country. Declined from 1984 to 1991 due to poaching.

Winter surveys in 2008 and 2009 by Dr Vadim Sidorovich, Belarus Acadamy of Science in Minsk, found a serious decline in otter numbers as well as populations of other mustelids – polecat, stoat, badger and even American mink. The problem seems to be some form of illness which is affecting mainly otters using streams or small rivers. Here animals come into contact with each other more often and so otters using bigger rivers seem to have a greater chance of survival.

In autumn 2010 numbers were starting to stabilise although still quite low with just 1-2 per 20km compared to the normal figure of about 10 per 20km for the Naliboki area. The cause of the illness is still not known.  

Legal protection: Trapped with special licences.

Threats: illegal killing and habitat destruction.

IOSF funded projects

2001 - Otter survey of NE Belarus

2005. Effect of fyke nets on otters in Belarus

Belgium

Species: Eurasian Otter

The otter was once common but since 1980 it is regarded as extinct, although there have been a few sightings in the south over recent years. In June 2006 sightings were reported on the River Semois.

In 2012 it was announced that for the second time an otter had been spotted using camera traps near Antwerp and further east near the Dutch border close to Weert.

Threats: Rivers are heavily polluted and unsuitable for otters.

LIFE loutre has a website on their project to restore otter habitats in Belgium and Luxembourg

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widespread throughout the country

Legal protection: Not known

Threats: Pollution, illegal killing, habitat destruction

Bulgaria

Species: Eurasian Otter

Sporadic population and in recent years it has become endangered. In 2005 the otter was searched for in 111 grid squares in southern Belgium. It was found in 88 of these and absent in 23. (Georgiev, D. 2005)

Legal protection: Fully protected

Threats: Pollution, illegal killing, habitat destruction

Croatia

Species: Eurasian Otter

Common in northern part of the country but lower density along the coast. Population appears to be stable and increasing (Katica Bezuh, Nature Protection Senior Inspector, 03/2005). According to the Red Data Book of the Republic of Croatia published by the State Institute for Nature Protection in 2004 the Eurasian otter Lutra lutra is classified as Data Deficient (DD) due to the lack of sufficient data required to assess the population status and distribution. Otter presence is reported for some rivers, but no systematic monitoring for the presence of otters in Croatia has been carried out yet. In February 2005 we started a systematic survey of otters in the Croatian rivers following the standard method recommended by the IUCN Otter Specialist Group. A total 27 sites were checked for otter signs between June 2004 and July 2005. All sites were located along the rivers Krka (5 sites), Cetina (7 sites), and Lika (15 sites). Otter signs were found in 19 of the 27 sites (70%). Positive sites were found in Krka and Lika rivers,with 80% and 100% of positive sites respectively. No signs of otters were found along the Cetina river. All positive sites awere located between 30 and 550 m asl. These preliminary results suggested that otters in Croatia might still occur in good numbers. Nevertheless, the absence of signs of otters in one of the three rivers suggested that there are still problems.

Legal protection: Protected (Off.gazette 162/03)

Threats: Pollution, illegal killing, habitat destruction

Czech Republic

Species: Eurasian Otter

Three isolated populations occur: one in the north bordering Germany, one in the east bordering with Slovakia and the third, the densest population, in the central part of the country around the fishponds.

Legal protection: Fully protected

Threats: Pollution with fertilisers and pesticides, illegal hunting

Denmark

Species: Eurasian Otter

Sporadic population and classed as endangered in the country. A national survey took place in April 2004, and no signs of otter were found in Zealand . In 2006 it was reported that surveys had shown a marked increase in the last 10 years. (Elmeras et al 2006)

Legal protection: Fully protected

Threats: Fyke nets and road traffic

Estonia

Species: Eurasian Otter

Sparsely distributed throughout the country.

Legal protection: Protected

Threats: Destruction of waterways, water pollution.

Finland

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widespread with a patchy distribution and classed as declining.

Legal protection: Fully protected under a hunting law which may only be temporary

Threats: Fish traps, road mortality and some are shot by mistaking them for beavers (Skaren, U 2003), which are hunted.

France

Species: Eurasian Otter

Otters are common in the west of the country and in the south but rare or absent from the north and east. Brittany has about 24% of the population.

Legal protection: Fully protected since 1976

Threats: Destruction of habitat, water pollution and road deaths

Georgia

Species: Eurasian Otter

Status of the Otter (Lutra lutra) in Southeast Georgia” by Gorgadze gave the results of surveys in three parts of the country. During the field work a photo of a leopard was captured on a camera trap – the first time this species had been seen in the country for 50 years. Click here to read the full report.

Legal Protection: Protected under the Berne Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats.

Threats: Habitat destruction for logging and agriculture, pollution, poachers, killing because of otter/fishermen conflicts.

Germany

Species: Eurasian Otter

The otter is very endangered in the old Federal Republic, and rare or extinct in other states.

Legal protection: Fully protected

Threats: Fish traps, road mortality, canalisation of rivers and pollution.

Greece

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widespread throughout the country with the densest population in the north east. The otter for the first time was found on the south coast of Crete in 2003. (Smet, K D and Lymberakis, 2003)

Legal protection: Fully protected

Threats: Habitat destruction, intensive fish farming, pollution and hunting, fish traps, road mortality, canalisation of rivers and pollution.

Holland

See Netherlands

www.alterra-research.nl

Hungary

Species: Eurasian Otter

Stable population but a decline in areas east of the Danube.

Legal protection: Protected since 1978.

Threats: Pesticides and fertilizer pollution, killing at fish farms.

Summary of Hungarian otter surveys

Hungary otter survey 2004-2005

IOSF funded projects

2000 - Emergency appeal to help the otters in the river Szamos and Tisza in Hungary after a cyanide spill.

Ireland

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widespread in the country.

Legal protection: Fully protected but illegal hunting with dogs still goes on

Threats: Fish traps, road mortality, hunting, canalisation of rivers and pollution.

IOSF funded projects

2000 - Campaigned with Irish MPs to stop illegal otter hunting in Cork and Limerick.

Italy

Species: Eurasian Otter

The otter is the most endangered animal in Italy with populations only in the south of the country. In fact 3.4km of the Calore gorgenear Felitto has 60% of the Italian otter population.

Legal protection: Fully protected

Threats: Habitat destruction and organochlorine pollution.

Latvia

Species: Eurasian Otter

The otter is found on most water courses but sporadically distributed. Dense populations are found in the western and eastern parts of the country.

There have been reports of a decline in otters in 2008 and 2009 as in Belarus – see Belarus for more information. 

Legal protection: Not known

Threats: Rapid development of agriculture, persecution by crayfish and fish farmers, habitat destruction and organochlorine pollution.

Liechtenstein

Extinct

Lithuania

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widespread throughout the country.

Legal protection: Fully protected since 1975

Threats: Habitat destruction and loss of food supply due to water pollution.

IOSF funded projects

1995 - The otter and fish farms in Lithuania

Luxembourg

Widespread until the end of the 19th century. Trapping and pollution has since caused its extinction.

LIFE loutre has a website on their project to restore otter habitats in Belgium and Luxembourg

Netherlands

Species: Eurasian Otter

The otter was officially declared extinct in 1988 and in 2002 a re-introduction programme began with animals brought in from Lithuania, Belarus and other eastern European countries.

Otters were reintroduced in the north of the country but they spread into the central belt. At the end of 2004 spraints were found in the Weerribben area, where two otters were radio-tracked before the transmitters broke down. Otter signs were also found in the Weerribben area and since then there has been evidence of some breeding.

However the reintroduction programme has been controversial as many animals have been killed on the roads. In 2014 31 animals died and so the Ministry agreed to bring in measures to reduce road deaths. In September 2015 it was announced that the last of 12 otters released in Gelderland in 2002 had been run over by a car.

It is estimated that the current population is about 140 animals and there are now concerns that there is a great risk of interbreeding which could result in genetic problems.

Norway

Species: Eurasian Otter

The north of the country has healthy populations but to the south they are fragmented. Recently the population is in decline.

Legal protection: Protected but licences can be issued to kill otters at fish farms

Threats: Pollution in south, mortality in fish traps and poisonous marine algae along the southern and south west coasts.

IOSF funded projects

1998 - Campaigned to Norwegian Government about the use of Rotenone in the rivers. Rotenone is used by fish farms to control the salmon parasite Gyrodactylus salaris, but is highly toxic to all aquatic life. Its use is no longer recommended.

Macedonia

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widespread and numerous along the Albanian border. For 2007 Click here

Legal protection: Not known.

Threats: Not known.

Montenegro

Species: Eurasian Otter

Animals found in most areas except the central part of the country and west central Montenegro.

Legal protection: Protected as a natural rarity but this law is outdated.

Threats: Not known.

Poland

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widely distributed. (Romanowski 2006)

Legal protection: Protected since 1974.

Threats: Pollution, drowning in fish traps and poaching.

IOSF funded projects

2000 - Helped with advice and otter milk for a baby otter in Poland

Portugal

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widespread and thriving throughout the country in all aquatic habitats.

Legal protection: Protected but licences can be issued to kill otters at fish farms

Threats: Damming of rivers, drought, illegal killing and coastal oil spills

IOSF funded projects

2002 - Helped with advice on bringing up two baby otters in Portugal.

Romania

Species: Eurasian Otter

Little information is available but numbers have declined over the last 40 years and the otter is considered endangered.

Legal protection: Protected but otters can be trapped from 1 October to 1 March.

Threats: Habitat destruction, pollution and poaching. Trapping takes about 250-300 animals a year.

Russia

Species: Eurasian and Sea Otter

The Eurasian Otter occurs throughout the country with the exception of the Tundra areas. A decrease in density occurs from the west to the east. Sea Otters occur in the Asian part of Russia on the Kamchatka peninsula and the Kutlin and Cammander Islands.

NATURE RESERVE IN NORTHERN SAKHALIN

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, August 24 (RIA Novosti's Pyotr Tsyrendorzhiyev) - The Tundrovy state nature biological reserve was created in northern Sakhalin (an island in the Russian Far East).

An appropriate resolution was signed by the Sakhalin Region Governor Ilya Malakhov, a spokesman for the regional administration's press service told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

The nature reserve in the Okhinsk district covers nearly 190,000 hectares of the taiga areas in the Vagis mountains. The reserve was created for an unlimited period of time.

From now on, the rare and disappearing species of flora and fauna on northern Sakhalin will be protected in Tundrovy. It has been planned to preserve the natural habitat of the population of wild reindeer. The Sakhalin taiga is rich in precious sables, Eurasian otters and brown bears, which will be now protected in the Tundrovy preserve.

Any economic activity, sport and amateur hunting and fishing, and the acquisition of land are prohibited in the reserve. Apart from that, bans have been introduced for motor vehicles in the reserve and helicopters cannot fly above the taiga at a height lower than 200 meters.

Russian information agency September 2004

Legal protection: Not known

Threats: Habitat destruction and pollution

IOSF funded projects

1995 - Set up a joint research programme to study the Eurasian Otter in the Central Forest Biosphere reserve.

Help wanted with Sea Otter project

Urgent appeal for Commander Islands

Serbia

Species: Eurasian Otter

Present in the river Gradac's gorge in Serbia.

Legal protection: Protected as a natural rarity but this law is outdated.

Threats: Not known.

Slovenia

Species: Eurasian Otter

The otter occurs throughout the country but is common in the north east. Detailed information on the distribution of the otter is scarce.

Legal protection: Not known

Threats: Road mortality and habitat loss.

Slovakia

Species: Eurasian Otter

A survey carried out in the 1970's showed it was one of the most endangered animals in the country and has declined from the south east and western lowlands.

Legal protection: Not known

Threats: Road mortality and pollution.

Spain

Species: Eurasian Otter

Widely distributed in the west but threatened in the central and eastern regions.

Legal protection: Protected

Threats: Habitat destruction, tourist developments, drainage of wetlands and illegal hunting and pollution

Sweden

Species: Eurasian Otter

Declining population from 1950 to 1980 but re-introduction programmes in central Sweden have shown that the population is increasing.

Legal protection: Protected since 1968

Threats: Habitat destruction and pollution

Switzerland

Unfortunately they became extinct in Switzerland in the 1980s because of pollution by PCBs, and a reintroduction programme failed as levels of PCB were still too high. However, there are signs that they may be starting to come back naturally. In 2005 a pair of otters escaped from Dählhölzli Zoo in Bern when the Aare river flooded. They seem to have survived until 2008 and had young. In 2009 an otter was seen in a video taken at a fish bypass at Reichenau and tracks were found in Valais in 2011 and 2012. In 2014 there was a report of one in Canton Geneva and in spring 2015 a female with two cubs was photographed with a camera trap between Bern and Thun – maybe these are descendants of the Dählhölzli pair. Hopefully this is the start of a real return of the otter to Switzerland, which also means that the water quality has improved for all of us.

Find out more here (in German)

Turkey

Species: Eurasian Otter

Otter numbers declined in early 1960's. Today otters are found throughout Turkey, living in a variety of aquatic environments. (Erogl et al 2009). Because of the fish pond farming in the north of the country the otter has made a comeback. A database is being set up on otters in Turkey and more information can be found below.

Legal protection: Protected

Threats: Habitat destruction, pollution and recently exploitation from fishermen in the north.

IOSF funded projects

1996 - IOSF's Turkey project

1997 - Otters in Sultan Marshes

United Kingdom

Species: Eurasian Otter

Otter numbers declined in the UK in the 1950s-1960s largely due to organochlorine pollution, although numbers remained relatively healthy in northern and western Scotland. Hunting was still permitted at this time which also took its toll on numbers. Following considerable effort to clean the waterways and the introduction of legal protection, numbers began to improve, but they are still some way below populations in the early 1950's.

There are reports in the media which suggest that they are present in every county and the implication is that they are now relatively common. However eel numbers in the UK have declined by over 90% and this is the favourite prey of freshwater otters in this country. Otters are certainly being seen in unusual and more urban locations, but there is no evidence to prove whether this means that they now have larger home ranges and have to travel further to obtain prey and holt sites, or that there are more otters. Population figures are based on surveys using spraint (faeces) and this cannot be used for actual numbers.

Otters in England and Wales are also dying at an earlier age than some of their European counterparts. Of the 110 otters examined by the Cardiff University Otter Project in 2010 only 10 were over four years old and the oldest was eight, compared with a maximum age of 16 in Germany.

Legal protection: Protected since 1979 (England, Wales and N Ireland) and 1983 (Scotland)

Threats: Habitat destruction, pollution and road mortality.

IOSF funded projects

Otter surveys of the Isles of Skye (1995), Canna (1996), South Uist (1999), Pabay (2000), Barra (2000), Eigg (2001), Coll (2002), Tiree (2003).

1995 - Set up Otter Watch UK, a co-ordinated approach to monitoring otters in the UK.

2001 - Installed wildlife warning reflectors on all danger areas on Skye roads after initial trial reduced otter road deaths by 75%. This has been followed by further work into reducing road deaths.

Conferences:

Otter Toxicology (2000)

Return of the Otter in Europe... Where and How (2003)

Otters and Fisheries (2012)

You will find more information on IOSF projects here or contact enquiries@otter.org.

Web sites:

Yorkshire Otters
Otters in North Wales Page