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Otter licensing

The otter is a European Protected Species (EPS). It is against the law to damage or destroy its breeding site or resting place, or deliberately to capture, kill, injure or disturb an otter. We grant licences so you can work within the law


The otter, Lutra lutra, is protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended), known as the ‘Habitats Regulations’. This is because otters have declined throughout Europe in recent decades. This information is focused on otter licensing in Wales and is not a comprehensive review of the ecology or the law relating to otters.

Otters can be affected by a range of activities including scrub clearance, river management, footpath creation, road schemes, housing developments or woodland operations. For information about surveys, see ‘Surveys for European Protected Species’.

Legislation

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:

  • 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
  • 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, damage and destruction of breeding sites and resting places.

There are other offences relating to possession, transport and sale. See ‘Possession and Sale of Protected Species’ for information on this. 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.

Licensing

NRW issues licences under Regulation 53 of the Habitats Regulations to allow you to work within the law. We issue them for specific purposes stated in the Regulations, if the following three tests are met:

  • The purpose of the work meets one of those listed in the Habitats Regulations
  • That there is no satisfactory alternative
  • That the action authorised will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the population of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status (FCS) in their natural range

Licensing purposes

The Habitats Regulations permits licences to be issued for a specific set of purposes including:

  • Include preserving public health or public safety or other imperative reasons of over-riding public interest including those of a social or economic nature and beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment
  • Scientific and educational purposes
  • Ringing or marking
  • Conserving wild animals

Scientific or Educational

You will need a licence to take or disturb an otter, or damage or obstruct access to a breeding or resting place, in order to carry out any kind of research or detailed survey. For more information on survey licences, see ‘Applying for licences to undertake standard survey work on otters’ and Schedule 5 and 6 application form. We can also issue licences for more invasive survey methods including marking animals or fitting radio tracking collars.

Conservation

If you would like to undertake management or restoration of sites with otters, you will usually need a conservation licence. See ‘Do I need a European Protected Species licence?’, ‘Schedule 5 and 6 application form’.

Development, forestry, river management etc.

For more information on EPS (development) licences, see ‘Do I need a European Protected Species licence?’, ‘Method Statement template otters’, ‘Information to be provided in an EPS licence application’, ‘Guidance on Engaging Ecologists’, ‘Development licence application form’ and ‘Rhododendron clearance: recommendations for reducing the impact on the otter’.

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