Otters on the Wey in Guildford

Large_mammal_otter_elliot_smith_Otter (Elliot Smith)

An exciting recent discovery of otter droppings (or ‘spraint’), made at two sites along the River Wey in Guildford, is proof that the rare and endangered mammal is at last returning to the area after 16 years. The discovery was made by SWT Wetland Landscapes Officer, Jim Jones, who went to investigate the area following a lead from the National Trust about a member of the public who claimed to have seen an otter there. 

In the 1970s otters were on the brink of extinction, but they are slowly recovering in Britain thanks to the ban on pesticides, legal protection and the significant improvement of water quality and related fish stocks. However, otters are still very rare in the South-East and particularly in Surrey; at present we only have a few of the animals exploring our rivers and it’s thought there are not enough to meet and breed to form a stable population.  Recent evidence of otters on the upper reaches of the Wey near Farnham and Godalming was recorded in the Fifth Otter Survey of England in 2009-10, but the last time otters were detected as far up as Guildford was as long ago as 1996. 

SWT has been working with the Environment Agency (EA) on the Otters and Rivers Project since 1997, to improve conditions for otters in Surrey by providing visiting animals with places to rest-up and build their homes (or ‘holts’) in and to encourage them to breed. Both organisations have been working together with landowners, water companies, businesses and volunteers to facilitate habitat improvements, fisheries protection, the creation of ‘otter shelves’ under bridges and construction of artificial holts. 

Jim says:  “This is a very exciting discovery, but volunteer otter surveyors have been an essential part of tracking the animals’ return to Surrey. It’s very easy to confuse otters with the invasive non-native American mink - which is widespread throughout the county - but following SWT training, volunteers are able to determine visual sightings and distinguish the difference between otter spraint (which some say smells of jasmine tea) and mink scat (which smells awful!).”

More help is on the way for otters, and other water-loving animals. SWT is also working with the EA in the Surrey Waterbodies Project to further improve wetland habitat and water quality as part of SWT’s Living Landscape vision and to meet targets under the EU Water Framework Directive.  In 2011 the Wey Valley Partnership (composed of stakeholders including SWT, EA, water companies, local businesses and conservation groups) was awarded Pilot Host Catchment Status by DEFRA with the aim of trialing improved ways of engaging with local organisations in fifteen catchments in England to improve water quality and habitat including along the Wey and, in doing so, provide a forum for diverse objectives of the stakeholders.

You can help!  If you think you have seen an otter or American mink or have found signs of them (footprints, droppings etc) please send details (including location, date, description of your find or sighting, any photos and your contact details) to Jim Jones, SWT Wetland Landscapes Officer via

Why not adopt an otter with SWT? Every adoption will provide funds to help improve river banks, build artificial otter homes and involve landowners in habitat improvement, so that otters can move around the county, to find food, mates and territory, more easily.  For just £20.00 you will receive a personalised adoption certificate, otter fact sheet, FSC Guide to British Land Mammals, an otter soft toy, photograph, sticker and badge, plus two newsletters a year to let you know how your support is helping.


If you think you've spotted an otter or spraint, please use this guide to help verify your sighting before reporting it to us.  

Date published: Friday 17 February 2012