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© 2013 Lizzie Ross BSc MSc

The Otter Network

John Durkin


Chair (Independent ecologist and former DWT trustee)

I am a self-employed ecologist working mostly in North-east England. I saw my first Otter at Thirlmere in the Lake District, when they were declining, and my second 20 years later on the beautiful River Derwent when they were first starting to recover.

My main interest with Otters is to monitor their continuing recovery, keep the recovery going and to consolidate their increase in range and numbers by improving riverside habitats , holts and road crossings, particularly in the urban areas.


About Lutra lutra

The network comprises a board of 5 members:



Lizzie Ross


General secretary

(IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group







The inland otter remains an elusive creature living a crepuscular life cycle best seen by accident rather than a planned vigile. My passion is otters in Northumberland.


I am currently working with Newcastle University to investigate otter road mortality in and around Newcastle. Results will be posted once the study is complete.


In 2014 with the help of Krzysztof Dabrowski of Newcastle University and a team at The Waterford Insitute of Techology, Ireland comprising Pete Turner, Catherine O'Reilly and David O'Niell, we completed the first non-invasive DNA study from Warden to Jarrow with interesting results.


Terry Coult


Vice chair (Retired County Ecologist)


I have always had an interest in otters and have checked Durham’s rivers for the last forty years as well as monitoring otter recolonisation of Durham from the 1990s to present.


My MSc thesis was on otters in County Durham and my former roles include the Otters and Rivers Project Officer for Durham Wildlife Trust 1999/2000. 


Publications include “Some Observations on an Otter Breeding Site on the River Browney”, Northumbrian Naturalist Vol. 70. Part 2. 2010.  I am the co author of the chapter on the Otter in the “Mammals Amphibians and Reptiles of the North East”, Northumbrian Naturalist, Vol. 73. 2012.  


Vivien Kent


Event co-ordinator

IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group member)

I am an independent Wildlife/Conservation Biologist and have been working with and studying carnivores in the UK and sub-Saharan Africa for nearly 18 years.


Until recently I was Conservation Officer at DWT where I devised, planned, delivered and analysed the data for the DWT Spring Otter Survey for five years from 2013. From 2018 the survey will become an Otter Network event.

I am also actively involved in educating and informing people about otters through walks, talks and writing articles.

Deb Nicholson


Treasurer (Local Otter Enthusiast)

My background was Nursing but I now work in the voluntary sector. My obsession with otters began approximately 7years ago when I moved back down the Dale to lower Teesdale where I live now. I have always enjoyed wildlife however. I became involved with the Heart of Teesdale and DWT annual survey through Viv Kent (see above), who has been my inspiration! I have regularly watched otters over this period of time and every sighting has always been very special.


I have had upsetting times (as they are still persecuted), frustrating times & amazing moments! I have spent many happy hours roving the river banks & would like to think am competent in otter recognition and signs. There's nothing better than smelling a good spraint! : )


I also do a very good interpretation of how not to take good photos and the one that got away!!


Within the UK and across Europe the otter (Lutra lutra) is protected from harm and disturbance of both the animal itself and its places of rest through: 

  • The EC Habitats Directive Annex II & IV (transposed into domestic law as the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2012); 

  • The Bern Convention 1982 Appendix II; 

  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 1975 Appendix I; 

  • The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 Schedule 5 & 6; and

  • is UK Red Data Listed (2013).


This protection is due to the severe Europe-wide decline in populations observed during the 1950s-1970s. Recovery of numbers in the UK has been excellent but this is not true across many European countries where the otter is still limited to small numbers of isolated animals or survives only through successful reintroductions. 



  • The otter is a member of the mustelid family also containing species such as the badger, stoat and weasel. There are 13 species of otter worldwide.
  • It has 5 toes which are webbed together. This can be crucial evidence when identifying otter prints in mud and sand. Badger and mink also have 5 toes while pet dogs and foxes have 4 toes.
  • Otters hunt small fish (occasionally very large fish such as salmon), crayfish and may take frogs, toads, newts and young rabbits or birds at certain times of year.
  • They live in close association with water though spend much of their time on land resting. Resting sites are commonly known as holts when they are underground and couches when they are above ground.
  • Otter 'spraint' (or faeces) are distinctive. They are deposited on rocks, fallen trees, grassy tussocks and almost all prominant landmarks within or adjacent to a watercourse. They can be very small or several centimetres in length and contain bones and scales. The smell is inoffensive, earthy and fishy. Colour can vary greatly though black/brown through to brown/green is most common. They are clearly left as markers however there is much research into the meassages they may contain.
  • Inland it is crespuscular, being most active at dusk and dawn. On the coast we have the same species but they can be active throughout the day. It is widely believed that the inland otter has adopted this crespuscular life style due to persecution over several centuries. The species was even listed as vermin in 1566 and bounties were paid per head for each otter killed.
  • Otter hunting has also been a sport and/or method of population control around fisheries throughout what is known of its history. Hunting of the species was banned in all forms in the 1970's. The traditional otterhound is now rarer than the otter itself in the UK.
  • Research into this species is largely by observation of distinct populations such as Shetland and therefore reaching a consensus among otter professionals can be difficult.