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Standing Committee

16th meeting

Strasbourg, 2 - 6 December 1996



Strasbourg, 26 August 1996

Pages 1 - 8

Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats

Standing Committee

Draft recommendation on the conservation of the European otter (Lutra lutra)

The Standing Committee of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, acting under the terms of Article 14 of the convention,

Having regard to the aims of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats;

Recalling that the otter is strictly protected in Appendix II of the Bern Convention;

Noting that the otter is at the peak of the food pyramid of wetland ecosystems protected by the Ramsar Convention and that, as such, its presence may be taken as good indication of good wetland quality;

Noting that the first cause for the decline of the European otter Lutra lutra is habitat loss and degradation;

Recalling the European Water Charter, adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe as Resolution (1967) 10;

Recalling Resolution (1977) 8 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the protection of lake shores and river banks;

Recalling Recommendation (1981) 8 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on sport and physical recreation and nature conservation in inland water areas;

Noting that Cupertino and exchange of experiences among states of Western, Central and Eastern Europe is necessary to obtain success in pan-European otter conservation;

Noting that otters need for their survival areas of wetland and riverine ecosystems in a satisfactory conservation status and that their conservation cannot be restricted to protected areas;

Taking into account the objectives of the 1995 European Year of Nature Conservation, which promotes conservation of wildlife and natural habitats outside protected areas proper;

Recommend that governments, scientists or conservation institutions, as appropriate:


1. Establish at a national level an otter conservation programme aimed at preserving healthy otter populations and the recovery of declining populations, as appropriate, for the different geographical areas of the state concerned.

2. Carry out bilateral and multilateral programmes of otter conservation involving states of Eastern and Western Europe, to enhance Cupertino and the exchange of experiences throughout the continent.

3. Ratify the Bern and Ramsar Convention as they protect the otter and its habitat.


1. General

1.1 Identify processes and categories of activities that are having or are likely to have significant adverse impact on otter habitats.

1.2 Eliminate legal mandatory rules and incentives that have a significant adverse impact on otter habitats (such as compulsory clearing of river banks).

1.3 Identify and promote incentives for actions which may improve the environmental quality of otter habitats, such as measures against water pollution, natural reforestation of river banks, adaptation of roads to otter crossing, improvement of fish stocks, etc.

1.4 Consider as a potential otter habitat sites in which:

- fresh water is present all year round, with shores and banks that do not freeze even in hard winters;

- food is available throughout the year (fish, crayfish and amphibians);

- water pollution is not high;

- part of the river bank contains enough vegetation (bushes, trees, reed-beds, etc.) to provide resting and

breeding areas;

- land use on the river banks is not intensive;

- otters are not subjected to direct killing by man.

2. River banks, lake shores and fish ponds

2.1 Make EIA compulsory on any work affecting significantly the natural character of wetlands and their associated ground waters, such as building of dams, canals, channelling of rivers, water pumping stations, drainage or important changes in the land use of the river basin.

2.2. Avoid artificialisation and channelling of rivers and streams.

2.3 Protect natural vegetation of river banks, restoring it where it is degraded and avoiding agricultural practices in the zone close to the water; avoid the clearing of trees along the banks of streams and their alteration for rafting, especially in some states of Eastern Europe.

2.4. Avoid, as far as possible, the use of pesticides and fertilisers harmful to freshwater ecosystems within a safety zone close to the water on river banks.

2.5 Restore degraded river banks and lake shores; eliminate as far as possible artificial elements from river banks; modify, if appropriate, canals to improve their naturalness, both in the water flow, aspect and structure (eliminating in particular their strict linearity along straight lines and square angels).

2..6. Avoid intense tourist use of lakes, rivers and streams; regulate tourist use and encourage the establishment of recreational activities at suitable distance from the banks, thus reducing the pressures.

3. Water quality, quantity and flow

3.1 Adopt and implement efficient anti-pollution policies to improve water quality in freshwater ecosystems, avoiding in particular pollution from PCBs, other chlorinated pesticides and Hg from industrial sources.

3.2 Control in particular industrial effluents into natural freshwater ecosystems; pay special attention to the strict control of small local factories in some states of Central and Eastern Europe.

3.3. Avoid significant reductions in water quantity due to excessive pumping for agricultural activities or other purpose, particularly where water resources are scarce.

3.4 Maintain, as far as possible, the natural flow of rivers, avoiding unnecessary regulation.

3.5 Ensure that methods of water management of rivers affected by dams and reservoirs minimise artificial sudden changes of water level; ensure that minimum "ecological" flows are respected, particularly in Mediterranean countries; ensure that migration of fish, otter and other animals can happen where dams have been built.

4. Food

4.1 Control commercial fishing activities to avoid overfishing.

4.2 Promote the creation of river and wetland reserves where fishing activities are severely restricted.

4.3 Promote "catch and release" fishing for sport angling.

4.4 Check regularly the level of fish resources in areas of importance for otter, limiting temporary exploitation if fish populations are low.

5. Direct killing or accidental mortality

5.1 Control poaching in some states of Central and Eastern Europe, both for otters, for other semi-aquatic mammals (beavers, muk-rats) and for fish, as illegal traps and nets may produce significant killing of otters.

5.2 Ensure that eel-nets are used with otter-avoiding devices; ensure that no fishery is allowed to operate using methods that present risks to otter survival or movement.

5.3 Avoid, as far as possible, building new roads close to water bodies.

5.4 Build passages adapted to otter use on roads crossing rivers or in areas where otters are known to cross roads where traffic is intense enough to cause deaths; ensure that such passages have a dry, non floodable corridor.

5.5. Limit speed in areas known to be of particular importance as otter crossings.

5.6 Compensate damages caused by otters to fish farms, avoiding as far as possible giving permits to kill otters causing such damage and promoting the establishment of systems which prevent otter attacks.


1. In the design of otter conservation policies, give priority to habitat conservation and restoration to build an inter-connected pan-European network of otter habitats which permits a genetic and population flow.

2. Establish a co-ordinated pan-European programme to implement the above-mentioned point; in such a programme the following elements need to be considered of importance:

- identification of threats to otters in the various regions, particularly these where otters are rare or have disappeared in recent years;

- identification of areas that could be considered as strongholds of the species and as a nucleus for further expansion;

- identification of areas that may be recolonised by the species;

- identification of areas that may act as corridors among isolated otter populations (such as those in the appended map) and which should be considered as candidates for priority action.

3. Designate for appropriate management, protection or restoration, areas of importance for otters, integrating them in the various existing international networks or those being created in Europe (Nature 2000, Ramsar sites, Biogenetic Reserves, EECONET Areas, etc.); check presence of otters in those networks; evaluate them to identify whether the existing international schemes cover important otter areas.

4. Create a European register of sites of importance for otter conservation, linked to existing European information systems such as CORINE.


1. General

1.1 Promote common research programmes between Eastern and Western Europe.

1.2 Promote in particular small international projects (e.g. single visits) aided by "seed money" for national or other small agencies, so that larger international projects may be conceived and designed.

1.3 Promote contacts between otter experts from other disciplines (genetics, computer modelling, GIS technology, fish biology, etc.); ensure that such specialists are attracted to otter workshops.

2. Field research

2.1 Promote standardisation and tightening of the methodology for monitoring otters; promote the comparison of results obtained from different assessment techniques.

2.2 Develop DNA fingerprinting technologies to identify spraints of individual otters, so that a combination of such techniques, with field surveys, may permit a better estimation of otter numbers and range.

2.3 Ensure that regular surveys are carried out at a national level, at least once every seven years, but preferably every five years; carry out more frequent surveys in sensitive areas; concentrate survey efforts in areas where changes in population status are expected.

2.4 Encourage research on habitat use (particularly using radio tracking techniques) in areas of both low and high otter density.

2.5 Encourage research in otter diets, in connection with assessments of prey availability; encourage contacts between otter specialists and fish researchers.

3. Captive research and re-introduction

3.1 Encourage zoological gardens, otter centres, universities and other institutions holding otters in captivity to embark on research which will allow a better understanding of their biology and conservation needs.

3.2 Concentrate captive research in one of these two main fields:

- general otter biology, including genetic studies, nutrition, breeding, behaviour and pathology;

- research specifically aimed at complementing field research, such as improvement of fishing gear to

avoid drowning, identification of spraint contents as a result of diet.

3.3 Encourage the collecting and studying, under appropriate conditions (including deep freeze), of blood and tissue samples from captive otters, as well as skulls from dead captive otters, documenting as far as possible the origin and known background of the individuals sampled.

3.4 Promote the extension of the stud book for the European otter, including new data on genetics, behaviour, reproduction, clinical-chemical data, post-mortem data and any other relevant data.

3.5 Improve Cupertino between zoological gardens, otter centres, universities and research institutes, so that joint projects might be planned and carried out; improve Cupertino between captive research centres and universities or research institutes involved in field research.

3.6 Establish a pan-European co-ordination group on otter captive research, made up of three people, to:

- review existing and past captive research;

- contact other workers to determine future captive research needs;

- encourage captive research and avoid duplication of work.

3.7. Make sure that any possible reintroduction programmes are designed and implemented following the guidelines laid down by IUCN's otter specialist group, by IUCN's position statement on the translocation of living organisms (approved at the 22nd meeting of IUCN Council in 1987) and by Recommendation R(85) 15 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on reintroduction of wildlife species.

4. Research on the effects of pollution

4.1 Continue efforts to monitor PCBs and their effects on otter populations, including the use of biomarker techniques, which may provide information on the induction of physiological effects of specific PCB congeners and related persistent compounds, such as planar polyhalogenated aromatic hydrocarbons.

4.2 Start in Central and Eastern Europe well directed contaminant monitoring programmes, in order to gather information on spatial and temporal trends in exposure levels.

4.3 Investigate the potential risk to otter populations of chlorinated dioxins (PCDDs), dibenzofurans (PCDFs), naphthalenes (PCNs) and related planar polyhalogenated aromatic compounds; non-ionic detergents (e.g. nonylphenolethoxylates), modern argrochemicals (e.g. organophosporous compounds) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); pay more attention to interactive effects of different contaminants.

4.4. Verify that experimental toxicological studies on otters are only allowed under very strict conditions, limiting them to low level exposure and reversible effects possibly within the framework of reintroduction projects; explore the suitability of otter cell lines as toxicological model.

4.5 Carry out comparative eco-physiological studies and field surveys in order to identify difference between otter and mink and other mammals in susceptibility towards specific pollutants in order to facilitate meaningful extrapolations between species from laboratory studies.