Scotland's Wildlife: Otter


Forever associated with Gavin Maxwell's book Ring of Bright Water, otters have long been firm favourites with lovers of Scotland's wildlife.

The otter in Maxwell's book may not have been from British waters (in the book it was rescued from Iraq) but there is an increasing population of this native species to be found in Scotland. In fact, we have one of the largest concentrations of the mammal in Europe with around 8,000 otters spread throughout the country.

Otters are predators and can eat up to 15% of their own body weight a day. Their preferred diet is fish, although some otters are adept at opening shellfish.

Swimming otter

Until recently the future of the otter in Scotland was looking decidedly bleak. The industrialisation of Scotland's rivers and coastline as well as numerous chemical spills destroyed the fish numbers in many of Scotland's waterways. This decimated the otter population.

With the cleaning up of the waterways the otter has made a remarkable comeback and can now be found all over Scotland - even in once-polluted rivers like the Clyde.

Otters are now protected by European law and since 1981 it has been illegal to kill them.

Where to see them?

Otters at a sanctuary

In the wild otters can be hard to spot and there is no guarantee of coming across one. However, if you want to persevere, keep an eye out along rivers, lochs and coasts.

Visiting an organised centre or sanctuary will give you the best chance to see an otter close up. The Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary, near Oban, is one such place. With organised activities and daily feeding sessions there are plenty of opportunities to see otters at close quarters.

When to see them?

Otters can breed all year around but in Scotland they tend to breed in the spring time. By early summer otter cubs are born. During the autumn months the cubs are learning to hunt and fend for themselves.

Page first published on Friday 4th April 2008
Page last updated on Friday 17th October 2008

Post Your Comment





Latin Name: Lutra lutra
Gaelic Name: Biast Dhubh.
Statistics: Length 55-110cm, weight 5-12kg.
Physical Description: With a long, slim body and powerful jaws, otters are perfectly adapted to aquatic life. Otters have webbed toes and a powerful, rudder-like tail, used for propulsion under water and are capable of closing their ears and nostrils while underwater. They have two types of fur: stout, waterproof guard hairs and a dense, fine underfur which provides insulation. Their fur is chestnut-brown and is slightly lighter on the belly.
Scottish Distribution: Widespread.
Habitat: In the British Isles, otters are found in fresh and salt water, although coastal otters like those in Scotland and the Shetlands need access to freshwater pools to clean their insulating fur.
Diet: Apart from fish, otters also feed on crustaceans, water birds, frogs and voles. They can use their whiskers as sensing organs underwater, to monitor the movements of prey.
Young: Otter cubs can be born all year round though in Scotland most are born in June. A typical litter has two to three cubs. The cubs are born hairless and blind and stay with their mother for a year.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.