Lutra lutra | European Otter | Madra uisce



Conservation status

Future ProspectsFavourable
Overall  Assessment of Conservation StatusFavourable
Overall Trend in Conservation StatusN/A
Source: NPWS 2013.

IUCN Conservation Status

Ireland (1)
Near Threatened
Europe (2)Near Threatened
Global (3)Near Threatened
Sources: (1) Marnell, F. et al 2009; (2) Jim Conroy et al 2007; (3) Ruiz-Olmo, al 2008.

Legal status

Protected by the following legal instruments:

  • Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), Annex II, Annex IV
  • Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) Appendix II
  • Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I
  • Wildlife Act (1976)
  • Wildlife (Amendment) Act (2000)
  • Wildlife (N.I.) Order of 1985.

Native status


Species Biology


  • The native Otter (Lutra lutra) is a slender, 'small-dog' sized mammal with long tail.
  • Head and body together measure to 72 cms, the tail to 42 cms. Females are approximately 10% smaller than males.

  • Fur mid- to dark brown above, paler below, those paler areas extending to below ears, often giving appearance of 'moustaches'.
  • Presence of the animal is often indicated by the presence of spraint (essentially faeces) which is usually dark in colour.
  • Can vary from  a smear or blob to a longer dropping. Smells pleasant when fresh. Fish remains often obvious in the spraint which looks ashy when dry. Usually left in prominent places in the individual otter's range.
  • Non-native American Mink (Mustela vison) which can occur in similar habitats, is much smaller - head and body to 40cm, tail to 19cms. Spraint is not sweet smelling.

Source: Harris S.,Yalden D.W. 2008


Habitats include but are not necessarily limited to;

  • Lakes and Ponds (FL)
  • Watercourses (FW)
  • Riparian woodland (WN5)
  • Estuaries (MW4)
  • Sea inlets and bays (MW2)
  • Salt marshes (CM)
  • Swamps (FS)
  • Riparian

Otters in coastal areas include freshwater sources in their territories.

An extensive list of Annex I habitat types with which Otters may be associated is listed in the National Otter Survey Report 2010 / 2012 (Irish Wildlife Manual No. 76), Reid et al (2013), which is available via the NPWS website.

Sources: Harris S.,Yalden D.W., 2008; Reid et al, 2013; Fossitt, J.A., 2001.


In Ireland breeding can occur in any season.

Gestation is about 63 days.

Cubs born in a single litter annually, 2-3 per litter.

Cubs are independent at c. 12 months.

Males sexually mature c. 16 months.

Females sexually mature c. 10 months.

Source: Harris S.,Yalden D.W. 2008

Threats faced

Roads, motorways
Professional passive fishing
Pollution to surface waters (limnic & terrestrial, marine & brackish)
Source: NPWS 2013.

These threats include threats also identified in the 2009 Irish Red List of Terrestrial Mammals in which the following additional threats were identified ;

  • Removal of riparian habitats reduce suitability for otters.
  • Decline in eel numbers.

Source: Marnell, F. et al 2009

These threats include threats also identified in the IUCN Red List at European (2007) and Global levels however a number of other threats present in Ireland are also identified:

  • Canalisation of rivers
  • Draining of wetlands
  • Traps set for invasive species
  • Dam construction

Sources: Jim Conroy et al 2007; Ruiz-Olmo, al 2008.

Conservation actions

In the Article 17 Habitats Directive reporting for the period 2007-2012 Conservation Measures implemented or being implemented during the period are outlilned below:

Legal Protection of Habitats and Species
Other forestry related measures
Restoring / improving water quality
Regulation / management of hunting and taking
Urban and industrial waste management
Speific management of traffic and energy transport systems

Source: NPWS 2013.

A more detailed outline of precise actions may be found in the 2009 - 2011 Otter Threat Response Plan, NPWS (2009).

The 2009 Irish Red List of Terrestrial Mammals does not suggest any Conservation Actions for the species.

Source: Marnell, F. et al 2009

The European level IUCN Red List suggests the following;

  • Road barriers and tunnels under roads are required to reduce the impact of road kills.
  • More monitoring is required.
  • Better survey techniques are required.

Source: Jim Conroy et al 2007.


World distribution(GBIF)

Much of Europe, large parts of Asia, north west Africa.

Accuracy of world distribution shown in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) map below will be constrained by, amongst other factors, data held but not shared by countries and organizations not participating in the GBIF.

Irish distribution

Widespread in Ireland.

Temporal change

Records submitted to Data Centre in 2024

The following map is interactive. If you would prefer to view it full screen then click here.

How can you help

The National Biodiversity Data Centre is trying to improve our knowledge on the distribution of the European Otter in Ireland. Should you observe otters, please submit sighting to add to the database. Detailed observations will assist us gaining a better insight into where the species are most abundant in Ireland and we might also be able to detect regional variations. Please submit any sightings and photographs at;

All records submitted on line can be viewed on Google Maps – once checked and validated these will be added to the Mammals of Ireland Database and made available for conservation and research.

Further information

For further information contact Dr. Liam Lysaght



Conroy J., Kranz A., Cavallini P., Fernandes M., Tikhonov A., Herrero J., Stubbe M., Maran T.,  2007. Lutra lutra. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <>. Downloaded on 07 October 2014.

Fossitt, J.A. (2001) A Guide to Habitats in Ireland. The Heritage Council.

Harris S., Yalden D.W. (2008). Mammals of the British Isles :Handbook, 4th Edition. The Mammal Society.

Marnell, F., Kingston, N. & Looney, D. (2009) Ireland Red List No. 3: Terrestrial Mammals, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dublin, Ireland.

NPWS (2009)Threat Response Plan: Otter (2009-2011). National Parks & Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government, Dublin.

NPWS (2013) The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland.  Species Assessments Volume 3. Version 1.0. Unpublished Report, National Parks & Wildlife Services. Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dublin, Ireland.

Reid, N., Hayden, B., Lundy, M.G.,Pietravalle, S., McDonald, R.A. & Montgomery, W.I. (2013) National Otter Survey of Ireland 2010/12. Irish Wildlife Manuals No. 76. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dublin, Ireland.

Ruiz-Olmo, J., Loy, A., Cianfrani, C., Yoxon, P., Yoxon, G., de Silva, P.K., Roos, A., Bisther, M., Hajkova, P. & Zemanova, B. 2008. Lutra lutra. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <>. Downloaded on 07 October 2014.