Otters (Lutra lutra) and their places of rest and shelter are protected under UK and European Legislation. Under this legislation, otters are regarded as European Protected Species (EPS). It is an offence to deliberately or recklessly disturb an otter (including injuring, capturing and/or killing), or damage, obstruct, alter or destroy the resting or breeding place of an otter. The resting place of an otter is protected at all times irrespective as to whether any animals are using it at a given time.
If the work proposed will affect otters or their resting places a European Protected Species licence, issued by the licensing authority Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), will be required to permit an otherwise illegal activity. Echoes Ecology hold licences from SNH to permit the disturbance of otters in their places of shelter whilst carrying out otter surveys. This also allows the use of trail cameras. Holding these licenses within our team means that we can proceed with site investigations without any delays to the work you are asking us to perform on your behalf.
Otter surveys are often completed in conjunction with water vole surveys, due to the species’ similar favoured riparian habitat type.
Otter surveys can be undertaken throughout the year. However, May to September is seen to be the optimal period for surveying as water levels are relatively constant with less likelihood of spate events, which can often remove evidence of the species being present and hence making survey conclusions harder to arrive at. During July to September high vegetation can often provide clear evidence of otter activity as couches, paths and holts become more evident due to the associated disturbance and flattening of the vegetation. Otters are predominantly nocturnal mammals which favour undisturbed areas. As a result, survey methods largely rely on finding evidence, in the form of droppings (known as spraints), footprints, holts, tracks and feeding remains.
For more information on otter licensing within Scotland visit Scottish Natural Heritage’s website here.
Water Vole Surveys
Water voles (Arvicola amphibius) are listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). This provides protection to the places of shelter, making it an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place which water voles use for shelter or protection, or to disturb water voles whilst they are using such a place.
Water vole surveys are carried out during the breeding season when they are most active. The breeding season is weather dependent but normally runs from mid-April to mid-September. Water vole surveys can be undertaken throughout the breeding season, but the optimal time to carry out surveys is in May and June, during the peak breeding season and before the vegetation has grown taller. Surveys for water voles involve searching for characteristic field signs along the edge of a water course or water body, and up to 2 metres from the banks. Field signs include droppings, feeding stations, burrows, lawns around burrow holes, above ground nests, footprints, and runways in vegetation. It is recommended that two surveys are carried out at least two months apart so as to provide the best picture of how a site is used by water vole.
For more information on water vole licensing within Scotland visit Scottish Natural Heritage’s website here.
Picture Credit – Laurie Campbell Water Vole Swimming (top centre)