Posting the exact location of a where otters live could get that person up to ten years in prison or an unlimited fine.
We were contacted and warned of the dangers of posting on social media about an otter holt and the legal implications that come with disturbing them.
Dave Webb, the founder of the UK Wild Otter Trust, explains how the animal is legally protected in the UK:
“They are classed as near threatened, they’ve got the highest level of protection in the UK of any species. The wording on the legal side is that it is illegal to kill, destroy, disturb or damage an otter or their place of rest or shelter either deliberately or by accident,
“People aren’t going to know they disturbed it by putting something on social media but it is possible and if they’ve drawn a lot of attention they would be disturbed because if people go to try and photograph them it could move them away from that area and if they’ve got dependent young then that’s not the best welfare for that animal.”
Posting on social media about an otter sighting can bring unwanted attention to the animal from people that may want to harm them because of the effect they can have on local fish population:
“When they post things on Facebook because they’ve seen an otter, not a lot of people see otters in daylight so of course when they see one it whips up this hysteria and the first thing they do is put it on social media, the majority of comments and attraction it brings is good but there is always a minority of people that do not like otters,
“Quite often that is from an angling background because their main diet is fish and they are quite capable of causing a lot of damage if they get into a fishery. When people post the exact location of where they’ve seen them, that isn’t in the best interest of that animal.”
There have been cases in the past of people being sent to prison for damaging an otter’s holt:
“The penalty, if you are found guilty of doing that, is up to ten years in prison or an unlimited fine, they are extremely severe. Last year we had a case in June that a fishery owner in Dorset shot an otter on his fishery in front of some fisherman and they reported it to us. We had it taken to court and he was sent to prison.”
Dave warns that people should be cautious and steer clear if they spot an otter in the wild:
“Particularly if they’ve got dogs, if a dog gets into a river or canal and it gets near the cubs or the mother, the mother will defend its cubs and I’ve seen some dogs with some quite serious wounds from an otter that had cubs, they are quite formidable if they feel cornered. It’s just being aware really if they see them, keep away from the area and get the dogs out and don’t post the exact location.”