Legislation to designate 194 protected sites for seals has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament.
Under the draft Order, which is subject to the normal parliamentary procedures, it will be an offence from 30 September to intentionally or recklessly harass the animals within the designated areas.
The selected haul-out sites are isolated locations around Scotland’s coastline, where seals come ashore to rest, breed or moult. Together with the existing network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for seals, they will protect at least half of the grey and common (or harbour) seals that populate our seas.
The total of 194 sites selected consists of:
• 149 haul-out sites consisting of 62 used by common (harbour) seals, 20 used by grey seals and a further 67 shared by both species
• 45 grey seal breeding sites, used specifically during the breeding season (September – December)
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:
“Seals are one of Scotland’s most iconic species and that is why we have introduced a raft of new measures to better protect them. Haul-out sites are key to the success of both grey and common seals and this list represents an important step in their conservation.
“Over the last four years Marine Scotland has worked closely with the Natural Environment Research Council and the Sea Mammal Research Unit to identify the listed sites, which are the most crucial for seals in Scottish waters. Those engaging in the intentional or reckless harassment of seals in these areas will be committing an offence and if caught will be punished appropriately.”
Sarah Dolman, Deputy Convener of Scottish Environment LINK Marine Task Force said:
“This is a welcome announcement, especially to help reverse declines in harbour seal populations. Designation of these haul out sites, along with robust guidance, will help decision makers to ensure protection of seals and is an important piece of the jigsaw that is the effective management of Scottish seas.
Libby Anderson, Policy Director at animal protection charity OneKind said:
“We hope that this will lead to all those who share the environment with marine wildlife, from dog walkers to anglers, fish farmers and salmon netsmen, recognising that seals at rest must be left alone.”
Notes to editors
To see the full list of designated haul-out sites www.scotland.gov.uk/sealhaulouts
Haul-out sites are generally isolated locations where seals come ashore to rest, breed or moult. Because the animals are at their most vulnerable during these times, the designated sites aim to offer a significant proportion of Scotland’s seal population protection from harassment that could prove dangerous; particularly for colonies of mothers and young pups at certain times of the year.
The new designated sites are complimentary to the existing network of 15 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for seals and together they will protect a minimum of 50% of seals of both species and considerably more than this in most regions, particularly those where there have been recent population declines. The locations will be reviewed regularly to reflect changes in haul-out patterns.
The designated haul-out sites are also additional to the forthcoming Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), an announcement on which will be made later this summer.
The penalties for those found guilty of the offence of harassing a seal at a designated haul-out site are up to 6 months imprisonment or a fine up to level 5 on the standard scale - currently up to £5,000.