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The otter is a European Protected Species (EPS). It is against the law to damage or destroy an otter breeding site or resting place (holt or couch), or deliberately to capture, kill, injure or disturb an otter

The otter, Lutra lutra, is one of our most charismatic yet elusive mammals. It is mainly nocturnal and rather shy. The otter is one of conservation’s success stories: following a catastrophic decline during the 1950’s and 1960’s, there are now healthy otter populations throughout most of Wales. This has been brought about by a ban on the most harmful pesticides, and the ongoing protection of their water-side habitats.

This page cannot cover all aspects of the law or otter ecology, but it is an introduction to show how you can help to protect the otter.


The otter is protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, known as the ‘Habitats Regulations’. This is because it has declined throughout Europe during recent decades.

Under the Habitats Regulations, it is an offence if you:

  • deliberately capture, injure or kill any wild animal of an EPS
  • deliberately disturb wild animals of any such species
  • damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal

Disturbance is defined as that which is likely:

1. to impair their ability –

  • to survive, to breed or reproduce, or to rear or nurture their young, or
  • in the case of animals of a hibernating or migratory species, to hibernate or migrate; or

2. to affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong.

Defra and the Welsh Government will publish a joint guidance document on the interpretation of the offences relating to disturbance, and to damage and destruction of breeding sites and resting places.

There are other offences relating to possession, transport and sale.

It is, however, legal for you to tend a disabled otter with the intention of releasing it, or to kill an otter that cannot recover, as long as the injury was not a result of your unlawful act (Habitat Regulations 44(2); W&CA 10(3)(a)(b)). It is not necessary to obtain a licence to collect a dead otter (eg a road casualty) for the purpose of submitting it for post mortem as part of the Cardiff University Otter Project.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981(as amended) it is illegal to:

  • intentionally or recklessly disturb any otter while it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for shelter or protection, 9(4)(b)
  • intentionally or recklessly obstructs access to any structure or place used by an otter for shelter or protection, 9(4)(c)
  • sell, offer or expose for sale any otter, 9(5)

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) issues licences under Regulation 55 of the Habitats Regulations to allow you to work within the law. You might need a licence to undertake woodland management, scrub clearance or a development, for example. See ‘Otter Licensing’ and ‘Do I need a European Protected Species Licence?’ for more information.

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