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Some seal haul out sites to be protected around Scotland

Just days after a Westminster environmental committee criticised the UK Government for delays in designating and properly managing MPAs in English waters, Marine Scotland has announced measures to better protect seals at 194 haul out sites around the Scottish coastline.

WDC welcomes measures to better protect grey and harbour seals around Scotland, and especially because harbour seals are declining at an alarming rate in some parts of Scotland. Urgent action is now necessary to reverse these population declines.

Under the draft Order that has been presented to the Scottish Parliament and 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.

This announcement is a step in the right direction but comes more than 3 years after the public consultation, to which WDC responded with our colleagues at Scottish Environment Link

There has been much discussion around the UK about the value of MPAs for species that move over wide areas. WDC strongly supports all marine protected areas for mobile marine species, where whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals are shown to use these areas for important activities such as feeding or breeding.

Ultimately, the UK has committed to put an ‘ecologically coherent network of MPAs’ in place. In addition to designating haul out sites for seals, we currently have less than a handful of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs – one kind of MPA) to protect bottlenose dolphins under European legislation and there are some existing SACs for grey and harbour seal haul out sites.

WDC has been providing evidence and pressure to the various administrations in the UK to designate MPAs for other mobile marine species.

Most urgently, we need

  1. Designation of a network of SACs for harbour porpoises;
  2. Designation of the Sound of Barra SAC with bottlenose dolphins as a qualifying feature;
  3. Investigation and designation of SACs for feeding areas for harbour seals (at sea, away from their haul out sites);
  4. Designation of Search Locations as MPAs for minke whales and Risso’s dolphins in Scottish waters;
  5. Thorough investigation and designation of MCZs for whales and dolphins in English and Welsh waters;
  6. Precautionary,  enforceable and transparent management measures of all sites that make up the network; and,
  7. Ongoing Government funding to collect local and national field data to help fill the gaps in the network, including for white-beaked dolphins.