BBC Countryfile recently visited the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Winnall Moors nature reserve to find out how you can spot the tell-tale signs of otters.

These shy and elusive creatures nearly went extinct during the middle of the 20th century as a result of persecution and poisoning from certain pesticides.

However, after huge amounts of work by conservation organisations like wildlife trusts, otters have now returned to rivers in every county in England. 

The phasing out of certain pesticides and huge efforts to improve water quality in our rivers have seen fish return to our waterways – and with them, otters. They’re a flagship species of our wetlands – if you see an otter about, you know that the local ecosystem is relatively healthy.

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserves officer Rachel explains the key tracks and signs that otters are out and about on rivers near you:

  • Otter runs – as you walk along the river’s edge, look out for trampled vegetation, and a circular gap in the reeds where otters slip seamlessly through into the water.
  • Spraint – otters often leave smelly spraint on tree roots, riverside rocks and under bridges as markers to mark their territory for other otters. Look closely and you’ll be able see what’s been on the menu – fish bones, frog bones or feathers!
  • Footprints – otter footprints are very distinctive. Look out for two-inch wide five-toed webbed footprints in soft mud.
  • Sightings – if you’re really lucky, you might get to see one yourself. They’re fast, agile swimmers, so can be difficult to identify. Watch along the edge of reedbeds, where otters often hunt. Look out for a mammal about a metre long, swimming very low in the water, with only its head showing. It’ll often dive for fish, leaving a trail of bubbles as it goes.

Find out more about how to spot otters at