Otter spotted in central Sussex

15 November 2018 | Posted in SWT News , mammals
Otter spotted in central Sussex
© Derek Middleton

Otter spotted in central Sussex

An eagle-eyed member of the public couldn’t believe his eyes when he caught sight of what he thought was an otter swimming in a river in central Sussex.  Having captured it on camera, he kindly sent it to Sussex Wildlife Trust, where Living Landscapes Advisor Fran Southgate was delighted to confirm that he had indeed seen an otter.

Fran says, “This is extremely exciting, as it was only two years ago – almost to the day - that a live otter was first caught on camera in Sussex, marking the return of this species to our county after an absence of almost five decades. Thanks to this latest sighting, we now know for certain that otters have made a comeback in two separate Sussex river catchments.

“This is fantastic news. Following decades of hard work by a range of Government bodies, charities and others, it shows that our rivers are now recovering from the pollution that killed them off.  The otter is a flagship wetland species and its presence indicates that the whole aquatic ecosystem is healthy – from the plants and bugs to the molluscs, dragonflies and fish, all the way up through the food chain to the otter.

“Having waited for the otter’s return for so long, we are thrilled with this latest evidence that they are slowly but surely recolonising Sussex.  Their natural recovery marks a positive breakthrough in the restoration of healthy river systems across the county.”

Shy and normally nocturnal, otters thrive in clean, unpolluted water with a plentiful food supply and quiet, undisturbed places to rest and breed. Their diet includes snails, frogs, shellfish and eels as well as fish, and a single otter’s territory can encompass a vast 40 km stretch of river.

The otter is a native species but was driven to extinction across much of England by the 1970s, mainly due to persecution and the pollution of our rivers and wetlands. Thanks to concerted conservation efforts, it has since made a welcome return to every English county but is still a rare sight, and otters are fully protected by law.  


  • Kelly:

    29 Nov 2018 11:52:00

    Truly fantastic news which has made my day (& year!) Long live the otters! Hope I can spot one myself some time, as I’ve never seen one!

  • 29 Nov 2018 11:56:00

    Well spotted! Great to see. Thank you for sharing

  • Lindsay Rebbeck:

    29 Nov 2018 12:01:00

    So thrilled to see an otter swimming in one of our rivers again. I remember them as a child in the Rother at Trotton near Midhurst and my daughter was involved in a school project in west Wales to build otter holts to encourage their return. Having been married to an organic farmer I am extremely keen on conservation and living in harmony with nature. I would like to support Sussex Wildlife Trust so will become a member in 2019. I live in Lavant.

  • Lyn Ibbitson-Elks:

    29 Nov 2018 12:05:00

    Well spotted Tom, citizen science at its best!

  • Richard Pumfrey:

    29 Nov 2018 12:35:00

    What brilliant news that the otters are back. It’s been a long time but shows that the efforts of the Wildlife Trusts and other agencies are making a difference. A pat on the back due to all concerned!!

  • Michele Carol Jankelow:

    29 Nov 2018 12:42:00

    Absolutely magnificent news! Am so excited! I live in Sussex and this is fantastic news! Yay! Well done to everyone for conserving this wonderful specie!

  • Louise Tucker:

    29 Nov 2018 13:06:00

    What heartening and joyful news! Have seen otters in a reserve in Norfolk and am thrilled to see evidence of their return to Sussex in the wild. Let’s hope there will be more, thanks to the great work of the SWT and others…..

  • Jane Terry:

    29 Nov 2018 13:07:00

    Otter lay wonderful ! (Sorry….)

  • Vanessa:

    29 Nov 2018 13:07:00

    Brilliant , amazing news , thank you for sharing. Really looking forward to talk on wetlands at woods mill this evening .

  • 29 Nov 2018 13:25:00

    Fantastic news. I was lucky enough to see the location in Surrey with Surrey Wildlife Trust when they had spotted otters for the first time in many years along the River Wey. Seems like they have moved further south. I wrote an article about it and did a radio interview for Brooklands Radio. Otters are such wonderful creatures.

  • Mary Houari Byrne:

    29 Nov 2018 13:26:00

    Is it ok to ask is it West or east Sussex that otter has been seen

  • Richard Collingridge:

    29 Nov 2018 14:07:10

    Confused by this. Wonderful news that one has been seen, and fantastic that otter is recovering.

    However, the facts given are askew or at any rate misleading: otter has been recorded much more than that over the past 50 years in Sussex. For example I found a document which includes a map showing some 15 records between 1979 and 2001 – and there must have been more since. Who published that document? Sussex Wildife Trust! Has someone got their wires crossed?

  • Nicholas Prosser:

    29 Nov 2018 14:10:00

    This summer I spent a few days on the Somerset levels with an unsucessful attempt to observe otters in reputedly one of the favourite locations to see them. I live on the coast near Chichester in West Sussex and would love to know of potential locations to observe and photograph them, without disturbance.

  • Jenni:

    29 Nov 2018 14:45:00

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful video. I have seen otters in Scotland but never in Sussex, let’s hope they are getting a firmer foothold and more people see them.

  • 29 Nov 2018 15:19:42

    @Richard Collingridge: We have had ‘wanderer’ otters – individuals looking for territory who have subsequently been run over or killed. This is the first time that we can confirm that we have resident otters for about 50 years.

  • 29 Nov 2018 15:22:29

    @Mary Houari Byrne: the animal was spotted in central Sussex, we can’t give away a more detailed location to protect the otter, I’m sure you understand.

  • Mike Squires:

    29 Nov 2018 15:49:00

    Excellent news, having been involved in construction and siting of artificial setts some years ago, this is very heartening. Regards to Fran.

  • victoria dorman:

    29 Nov 2018 17:13:00

    What good news..and a video! My husband was sure he saw one briefly in our river in East Sussex last summer.

  • Phil Holtam:

    29 Nov 2018 17:44:00

    Viva Sussex Otters!

  • Valerie Woodland:

    29 Nov 2018 19:17:00

    Saw one in Pulborough by the bridge around may time. I sure it was an otter.

  • Lisa Atherden:

    29 Nov 2018 20:32:00

    Such good news, I’ve got a big smile on my face. Happy day!

  • Ady:

    30 Nov 2018 10:45:00

    Well that’s the water ways and wildlife all screwed up now with a grade A Predator on the loose

  • 30 Nov 2018 10:59:30

    @ Ady: On the contrary this is brilliant news for Sussex rivers. One of the main reasons that our otter and fish populations declined was that our rivers were heavily polluted, the Trust and others have worked hard to create healthy rivers which support healthy wetland ecosystems which is finally resulting in natural recovery of otters to Sussex after 50 years absence. Otters are a natural part of the aquatic ecosystem and their presence shows that the entire food chain below them is healthy. Scientific research has shown repeatedly that having a top predator in an ecosystem makes that ecosystem much more healthy.

  • Mikki:

    01 Dec 2018 11:03:00

    I have seen quite a few otters near the river where I live in Sussex over the past 15 years. So although rare/endangered I personally dont think they completely disappeared from Sussex rivers.

  • Val Trinkwon:

    03 Dec 2018 09:20:00

    Hi – thats great to see they must be spreading from surry?
    about 6 years ago i was on the NT boat trip from Dapdune Wharf towards the centre of Guildford, and we had reached just by the main buildings on the riverside in Guildford itself, when someone said they could see a rat swimming in the river – we all looked and i said it was an otter with 2 young as well, but the NT boat driver told me to be quiet as they didnt want people to know that otters where resident in guildford waterways!!!

  • Audrey Keenan:

    04 Dec 2018 21:53:00

    I have seen a few otters in the last 6 months in East Sussex. Was truly wonderful to see them, fantastic

  • 05 Dec 2018 11:03:00

    If anyone thinks they have seen otters in Sussex, we would love to know so any sightings can be recorded. Please use this form:

  • Anne:

    18 Jul 2019 21:31:00

    Wonderful, not seen one since the late 60s/early 70s, in the Rother at Etchingham, lovely to see and hope they will be back

  • Peter Bradley:

    04 Aug 2019 07:46:00

    Saw a black otter, 1pm, 3rd August 2019 , on Wey and Arun Canal, at Devils Hole Lock, just West of and up from Onslo Pub
    My wife was with me and also saw the otter exploring the lock gates.

  • Mick Symes:

    27 Oct 2019 22:51:00

    The Crowhurst Otter hounds hunted the otter to extinction in Sussex in the 1930’s It is possible a few were missed but they were decimated long before pollution issues of the 2nd half of the 20th century. The news of confirmed sightings back in East Sussex is however one of the best pieces of wildlife news possible. Further sightings in West Sussex are just as exciting.

  • Mark McManus:

    05 Dec 2019 17:06:00

    Great to hear about the otter seen although there are also many Mink about which are a bit smaller and look quite black from a distance or if only seen briefly.

  • Rob:

    07 Feb 2020 15:43:25

    I was out running this crisp morning near the River Rother near Burwash when, to my amazement, I saw the silhouetted outline of an otter about 15 meters away. It was investigated one of the streams feeding the Rother. I was totally taken back. Was I seeing things or has anyone else heard of an otter in this part of the world?

  • 14 Feb 2020 09:56:00

    @ Rob – it would be great if you could send details of your sighting to us using this online form

  • David Daish:

    20 Feb 2020 22:47:00

    I am certain i saw a black otter on the river rother last year .
    It was foraging along the opposite river bank.
    I thought it was a large mink but it was way to big .

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  • David white:

    15 Sep 2020 18:02:00

    Tuesday 15th September 2020 08:30 (approx)
    Location Cowbeech Hill East Sussex
    An otter ran across my garden . Our neighbours have a small pond and there is a small lake approx 200m away. Is this a common sighting?

    Hi David. There have been otter sightings in Sussex. They are, however, still very rare, and slowly recolonising. They are also shy and nocturnal so it is more likely to have been a mink
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