Scottish Wildlife Series


The approach road to the Skye Bridge incorporates substantial stone walls helping to deter otters from crossing the carriageway at this point.If it is impossible during the course of a lawful operation to avoid general disturbance to otters or the destruction of their shelters and habitat, then it is essential to undertake appropriate mitigation measures.  Where the destruction of a holt has to take place, suitable restitution would be the provision of one or more artificial holts made from logs, boulders or pipes to tried and tested designs.  If they are to be successful, advice should be sought on type, location and construction taking into account the general needs of the species.

Provision of Artificial Holts

Artificial holts can be constructed to several different specifications according to the local circumstances.  In riverine and other freshwater habitats, both log pile holts and pipe and chamber holts are commonly constructed.  In coastal situations, a slightly different design based on the latter is usually more appropriate.  In such circumstances, it may be possible to incorporate an artificial holt within the rock armour fabric of, for example, newly constructed coastal defences, provided that the necessary measures are in place to prevent otter access to any nearby roads.  (If the prevention of such access cannot be assured, it is wise to discourage the use of rock cavities for this purpose, and infilling the larger ones may, therefore, become necessary).

Artificial otter hold in construction.

Road Schemes

New roads (and some existing ones) can be a particular problem for otters and may lead to significant mortality amongst the local population.  Road mortalities tend to occur at times when rivers are in spate and otters are obliged to leave the watercourse and cross roads, when normally they would safely follow the river channel beneath bridges.

The ideal is to design river crossings that retain a wide strip of accessible riparian habitat on either side which can accommodate spates, thereby providing a safe route under the bridge at all times.  Clearly, the local topography is often such that this ideal is not always achievable, in which case mitigation can take a number of forms set out below, some of which may also be appropriate in other situations. 

Tunnels and culverts

Both (wet) culverts and dry tunnels enable otters to cross roads safely.

Otter fencing

Both dry tunnels and culverts require suitable fencing to guide otters towards them, if they are to be effective.  Fencing may also be appropriate in other areas too, notably as a deterrent to accessing the carriageway.  Otters can be very determined if faced by an obstruction of this sort.  They are agile and can climb, dig and squeeze through narrow gaps so such fencing is never considered totally otter-proof.  The recommended specification is as follows:  at least 1.2m high galvanised welded mesh (of at least 2.5mm gauge) above ground level, with a maximum mesh size of 100 x 50mm attached to fence posts and topped with barbed wire.  Below ground, the mesh should be dug in to a depth of 300mm, or 100mm with a horizontal lap on the otters’ side of 300-450mm.  (This is often necessary in soft, peaty ground).  Fencing contractors do not always understand the attention to detail which is required to achieve an effective otter-proof fence.  A small unguarded hole may be all that is needed to render the entire fence pointless and so the workmanship needs to be checked with great thoroughness, by an otter specialist or a person experienced in otter fencing.  Higher grade and more aesthetically acceptable solutions are possible, while lower grade chicken wire may be suitable on a temporary basis although electric fencing is a much more useful deterrent.  In the latter case, electrified rabbit netting or two strands at 100mm and 200mm above ground are ideal, but note that such solutions require daily attention to ensure that they continue to function effectively.

Otter fencing designed to direct otters towards a safe road crossing point, i.e. a dry tunnel positioned above and to the side of the main culvert.

In situations where fencing is required to prevent not just otters, but also badgers (and possibly some other species) from gaining access to a new road, a similar type of fence can be used, except that maximum mesh size should not exceed 25 x 50mm.  A single fence to this specification should function as a reasonably effective deterrent for both the above species.

Click for larger image.

More information is available in Nature Conservation and Roads: advice in relation to otters (2001), by A Grogan, C Philcox and D Macdonald, and the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges(DMRB) - Note that the DMRB guidance is currently being updated.

Roads frequently travel round the more accessible coast, as a result of the mountainous terrain of Scotland.  The indented nature of the Scottish coast, in association with the large number of inhabited islands, means that new or improved roads also frequently require new bridges or causeways.  Proposals for new roads often raise concerns over the potential for increased otter mortality from traffic, in particular, where a proposed road will interfere with holts or cross established otter paths or areas where otters fish.

In such circumstances, the construction of an otter barrier wall (vertical, with a smooth outer face) at least 1.3m high on the seaward side, will help prevent otter incursion onto the road and encourage access to specially constructed otter tunnels.  Walls of this type have the advantage of being extremely durable and weather-resistant.  An example of this form of mitigation can be found on the road connection to the Skye Bridge.  

A new road may also destroy or damage freshwater pools, necessary as grooming pools for otters which have been feeding in salt water.  If this is the case, then new freshwater pools should be constructed to replace those lost.  This was done when the Skye Bridge was built.