The granting of a Class Licence by Natural England to UKWOT, to allow the humane trapping of otters within a fenced fishery, and release immediately outside that fishery, is seen as a breakthrough, principally because trapping is currently expressly forbidden under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. As the provisions of the granting of the licence aren’t immediately clear on first reading of the lengthy Natural England directive, we are clarifying some of the more confusing, and less obvious, aspects.

In his appended step-by-step guide, Mark Walsingham has spelt out the steps to be taken to become a trained trapper, or to call one out if you don’t have a trained one attached to your fishery. At the time of writing, there are of the order of 30 people waiting for trapping training, which is likely to increase rapidly on the back of this publicity. If you wish to become trained, apply to Natural England, as directed by Mark. For the reasons explained here, such training is in your interests if you have a suitably fenced fishery, or fisheries, and otter predation is considered to be a threat.

There are some natural reservations being expressed about the Natural England Class Licence:

1) The narrowness of its scope.

2) The time scales involved in the trapping.

3) The time scale involved in any possible ongoing procedure if trapping fails within a reasonable period.

4) The admitted difficulty of trapping otters.

5) Cost of training.

6) Cost of call-outs.


Narrowness of scope: The licence only applies to suitably fenced fisheries where financial loss would result from otter predation. Financial loss may be a given, in the light of the value of carp, or it may have to be ‘significant’, as would be the case with some fisheries dependent on a couple of large carp being the main attraction for syndicate membership or day ticket purchase. (The NGO ruling which was a possible trigger for the negotiations leading to the issuing of this licence was based on a threatened livelihood, not just financial loss.)

The time scales: The presence of an otter within a fenced fishery may not be immediately obvious. Natural England require 5 days’ notice of any intended trapping activity. Otters are said to be difficult creatures to trap. Even if the presence of the otter is detected quickly, there is still likely to be a week’s delay in the start of trapping activity. Those who are familiar with the ways of otters tell us that they like to eat from fresh kill, and can even kill beyond their nutritional needs. A week of an otter within a fenced fishery may be very damaging to the livelihood of some fishery owners.

The time scale involved in any possible ongoing procedure if trapping fails: Trapping otters is said to be difficult, and currently untested in the envisaged scenario. The ‘failed trapping’ period is currently undefined, but represents at least a week at the start of the procedure. If you can’t trap it you have to kill it, either under the terms of another licence issued by Natural England, or at the discretion of the licensed trapper under the existing provisions of the Wildlife & Countryside Act, 1981*. The latter point is untested, and may need testing at some point; the issuing of another licence is a further delay in the ongoing predation of the fishery. The NE directive does not appear to mention any time scale for the intended trapping period.


*Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, Section 10.4 states: ‘An authorised person is not guilty of an offence under section 9 by reason of the killing or injuring an animal included in Schedule 5 (which includes the otter, Lutra lutra) if he shows that his action was necessary for the purpose of preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property or to fisheries.’


The Natural England Directive includes this warning: ‘If the activity that you wish to undertake is not covered by this licence, or if you are unable to comply with any of the terms and conditions which apply to the use of this licence, then you will need to apply to Natural England for an individual licence’.


Cost of training: The training of a trapper will cost of the order of £450, although this may be significantly reduced ifUKWOT’s proposal for a training scheme is accepted by Natural England. Both the Predation Action Group and Embryo have offered to fund the training of suitable applicants to be trained as approved trappers. At present it isn’t known when the next training course will take place. There are currently six trained trappers covering the country, whose details you can obtain from Natural England.

Cost of call-outs: The fee for a call-out, if you don’t have your own trapper, may be as high as £500 per day, plus travel expenses, and possibly plus subsistence. An untrained assistant can monitor the trap once it has been put in place by a trained operative, but if the trapping is successful, the trapper would have to carry out the release of the otter outside the fishery fence. It would also be necessary to purchase the necessary traps to protect your fishery. 

For clarification, a Class Licence means that trained trappers can trap without application, subject to the ‘at least 5 days’ notification required by Natural England. If your club or federation controls a number of waters, it is clearly within your interests to have your own trapper trained. Natural England would then only require notification of a trapping procedure about to be initiated, not an application in each instance.

We have compiled this summary, and appended the bullet point procedure, to make the provisions of the lengthy Natural England directive re the Class Licence (which runs to 11 pages on the Natural England Internet site) absolutely clear. It is in your interests to study the rules and understand them. We are moving into a peak time of year for stillwater predation by cormorants and otters. It is in your interests to have a suitable fence round your fisheries, and your own trained, approved operative to hand should the fence be breached by an otter.

Mick Clifford