Shetland’s Otters Underground – An Unseen World

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Friday 25th January 2013 | Otters

The family a few months ago snuggling down for a nap, just a few hundred yards from our artificial holt. Photo by Brydon Thomason.

The family a few months ago snuggling down for a nap, just a few hundred yards from our artificial holt.

Over the past 18 months or so I have been extremely fortunate to study wild otters in Shetland from a perspective (to our knowledge), never successfully seen here before. By building an artificial holt, kitted out with a live video stream and working under my schedule 2 license, authorised by Scottish Natural Heritage (which I have worked under for several years), together with a fellow otter enthusiast, we have enjoyed many months of privileged insight into a previously unseen world of wild otters here in Shetland.

This truly has been the most exciting ‘otter project’ I have ever had the privilege to work on. My fascination for otters began as a child and has grown into my life’s passion; I am extremely fortunate to have built a career around them and work with them throughout the seasons. This unique project has offered us an insight into a world that we could only before imagine.

Much of what we know of otters and their daily routines can be learned with experience and on-going study and observations.  It is known that otters’ holts can be used by more than one otter over any particular period and that they may have several holts within their ‘range’ which may be used intermittently. Through this innovative project we have seen this first hand.

Over the first year or so the holt was used occasionally by a dog otter when he would come in for a sleep or just a general ‘sniff around’ and less so by one of the nearby females. The real success and celebration for us however was when one of the resident females moved her two cubs in and has continued to use it as their ‘core holt’ since. Throughout this time we have not only enjoyed intimate insights into their family life but also we have watched first-hand the relationships between animals within a particular range and their use of, and occupancy of, holts.

It is very important to state that otters are protected by law under the wildlife and countryside act and such a project should not be considered without intimate knowledge of otters and contacting the appropriate authorities is paramount. Our understanding of otters and their shy and sensitive nature ensured that this project was done with stringent sympathy towards the otters at all times. For more details on otter protection click here.

Due to the sensitive nature of otters, their protection and the avoidance of disturbance to this project and ultimately otters in general, we do not name the location. The fact that it was used at all in the first year is testament to this necessary approach, especially over the past six months when being used by a mother and her cubs, allowing us to share this totally unique and privileged insight of Shetland’s Otters Underground…

For more information on how to see otters in Shetland, read about what we can do for you at