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The River Spey and its tributaries is a European conservation site for otters and is vulnerable to major new developments.

Otters dependant on the River Spey and its tributaries may be facing growing problems in the Cairngorms National Park. A report soon to be published by SNH could shed light on how otters are faring in the River Spey Special Area of Conservation in Badenoch & Strathspey.

Threats to otters include climate change, habitat degradation and fragmentation linked to development, human disturbance and road traffic accidents. A 26% human population increase over 20 years is forecast in the Cairngorms National Park as a result of the National Park Authority’s controversial housing development proposals. This increase is likely to add to pressures on otters. (See https://www.flickr.com/search/?w=48558356@N04&q=infographic@N04&q=infographic ).

Otters, which feed in minor drainage ditches and small burns and pools as well as larger water bodies, are vulnerable to declines in amphibians and fish stocks. Eels, which can be a staple prey for otters, have suffered alarming declines in recent years, and extreme weather events can lead to the loss of river-bank trees used as retreats by resting otters.

To help otters we need to know more about which areas are important for mothers with cubs. This is especially so as natal holts, where cubs are born and spend their first few months, can be well away from rivers. Perhaps surprisingly, woodlands can be particularly important places for natal holts.

BSCG has long been concerned that woodlands are under major pressure in the Cairngorms National Park from development and recreation, and this could be critical for otters. BSCG is working with others to draw attention to threats to otters and has been helping the International Otter Survival Fund and Cardiff University by collecting otters found dead and sending them for analysis that includes measuring pollutants.BSCG is always interested to hear of otters found dead.

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A letter about otters at a threatened site in Strathspey.

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Otter tracks in sand by the River Spey.

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Naturalist Bobby Tulloch shared his experiences of watching otters in a book published in 1994 by Colin Baxter.

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Otters are vulnerable to road traffic accidents.

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Otter tracks in snow on a small lochan at a threatened site in Strathspey.