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Eurasian Otter Spotting

Lutra Lutra

Shy and retiring

Otters are elusive creatures by nature and are only usually active at night, especially around dawn and dusk. This makes the chances of a chance encounter extremely slim.

It is also important to be in the right part of the country - south-west England, East Anglia, central and west Wales and northern Scotland have the most thriving otter populations, although there are now otters everywhere in England except the south-east.

Even setting out at the crack of dawn on an otter river, it may take weeks of watching before catching the tiniest glimpse of a wake in the water or a hunched back disappearing into the bushes. The best places are RSPB wetland reserves; lakes and reedbeds are good otter environments, and with lots of birdwatchers around at dawn and dusk if there are otters in the area then someone will see them.

If you definitely want to see an otter, you must visit a zoo or wildlife park - or best of all one of the handful of otter sanctuaries around Britain. To see them in the wild there are two realistic possibilities, though there are no guarantees.

There are several wetland RSPB reserves and nature trusts with bird hides from which otters are regularly spotted, such as the Teifi Valley in Pembrokeshire, Shapwick Heath in Somerset, or Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk. Try searching the internet for reserves in your area where otters are being sighted. Get there at dawn or dusk and be prepared to watch for a few hours and either be lucky or unlucky. If the reserve has books for recording sightings, you might spot a particular time of day when the otter is more often seen.

The other place to see otters is on the north-west coast of Scotland, and especially the western isles like Mull and Skye. These otters have a different habit, being active through much of the day, fishing in the sea lochs. This makes a sighting far more likely, and if you holiday in this area then you should ask locals for places where otters are seen. You'll still need patience and luck, but your chances are better.