New Natural England powers give trust authority to remove otters from English fisheries

A North Devon-based wildlife conservation charity has been granted a licence to free trapped otters from fenced fisheries across England.

The licence has been issued to the UK Wild Otter Trust (UKWOT) by Natural England and is thought to be the first of its kind sanctioned.

The European otter is the only native UK otter species and is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Having faced extinction in the 1960s, the animals have since re-colonised rivers in every English county. However, their revival has led some fisheries and anglers to become increasingly frustrated by otter predation.

Otter support (from left): Jake Davoile (Angling Trust), Dr Daniel Allen (UKWOT), Dave Webb (UKWOT), Mark Walsingham (fishery owner), and Paul Filer (angler). Picture: ContributedOtter support (from left): Jake Davoile (Angling Trust), Dr Daniel Allen (UKWOT), Dave Webb (UKWOT), Mark Walsingham (fishery owner), and Paul Filer (angler). Picture: Contributed

If an otter becomes trapped in a fishery, it is illegal to remove them without a licence.

The ‘initiative class’ licence is a collaborative initiative supported financially by the Angling Trust and Predation Action Group (PAG) and allows UKWOT to humanely trap any trapped otters and remove them to the outside of the fence.

The trust, set up by North Molton wildlife enthusiast Dave Webb, will also be advising fisheries on fence types and fence security, and introducing a new training course.

Mr Webb, who is also the chairman, said: “I am very excited about this breakthrough for the UK Wild Otter Trust.

Otters in the wild. Picture: Dave WebbOtters in the wild. Picture: Dave Webb

“It is an important step forward in otter conservation and it demonstrates what can be achieved by working alongside the angling fraternity.

“Achieving this has given fisheries and anglers alike the confidence that there is a legal, humane and sensible option to help reduce otter predation.

“This project is still in the very early stages of development but has been long overdue.

“Fisheries look to otter groups and other organisations for help and we are all very aware of the financial pressures that otter predation can cause. We hope, that this will go some way in boosting morale and of course offer that all important support and help.”

Otter enthusiast Dave Webb, from North Molton, pictured at Rolle Quay in Barnstaple. Picture: Andy KeebleOtter enthusiast Dave Webb, from North Molton, pictured at Rolle Quay in Barnstaple. Picture: Andy Keeble

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust, said: “This is a welcome response to the representations we have been making to Natural England to deal with the potential problem of otters occasionally getting trapped inside the fences.

“Our expert fishery management advisors will now be able to help fishery owners and angling clubs by legally trapping the animal and placing it outside the fence.

“The licences are another step forward in our wider strategy for managing the impact of predation on fish and fishing.”

BBC wildlife presenter and UK Wild Otter Trust patron, Lindsey Chapman, added: “The humane otter trapping initiative by the UK Wild Otter Trust is a major, ground-breaking step forward for otter conservation in the UK.

The UK Wild Otter TrustThe UK Wild Otter Trust

“It gives fenced fisheries a legal, humane option for removing otters and will help build important working relationships with those affected by otter predation, whilst at the same time raising the all-important species awareness.”

For more information about the UK Wild Otter Trust click here.