Designation of a seal haul-out site in the Ythan Estuary: analysis of consultation responses

Analysis of responses to the consultation on the proposal to designate a seal haul-out site.

1. Background

1.1. The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 specifies that Scottish Ministers consult the Natural Environment Research Council ( NERC) before designating seal haul-out sites to protect seals from harassment through a Statutory Instrument.

1.2. On behalf of NERC, the Sea Mammal Research Unit ( SMRU) at St Andrews University developed a methodology [1] for identifying suitable seal haul-out sites for designation, which was endorsed by Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) and Marine Scotland Science.

1.3. This methodology identified 194 proposed sites which were subject to a public consultation in March 2011. The consultation response was positive and the Protection of Seals (Designation of Haul-Out Sites) (Scotland) Order 2014 ( SSI 2004/185) subsequently came into force on 30 September 2014. This order designated the 194 identified seal haul-out sites [2] where seals are protected from harassment all year round.

1.4. Marine Scotland also produced Guidance [3] on the Offence of Harassment at Seal Haul-out Sites, to assist the public .

1.5. This initial list of designated seal haul-out sites is open for review by Scottish Ministers. This allows for the designated sites to reflect changes in seal haul-out patterns over time by the addition of sites newly adopted by seals, if they meet the criteria, or by the removal of existing sites that seals have abandoned and which no longer meet the criteria.

1.6. NERC's Special Committee on Seals ( SCOS), which meets annually to discuss all matters related to the management of UK seal populations advised that the list of seal haul-out sites should normally be reviewed every 5 years. They also, however, recommended some flexibility to take account of specific cases of particular concern.

1.7. In 2015, Marine Scotland received a proposal from several members of the public and users of the area that a seal haul-out site located at the mouth of the River Ythan should be considered for designation to protect seals using this site from harassment. This is a relatively new site for grey seals situated in the East Coast of Scotland Management Area. The number of seals using this site has only very recently shown significant increase. Therefore, the site was identified as important too late to be included in the initial seal haul-out designation process.

1.8. The proposal was presented to SMRU and SNH. SMRU advised that the site met the criteria for consideration for designation and SNH endorsed these views.

1.9. A public consultation was therefore undertaken to allow stakeholders and members of the public to comment on whether or not the site should be designated, whether or not there was a risk of harassment at the new site and the timings of the designation.

1.10. The proposed site is located close to and partly within the Forvie National Nature Reserve ( NNR), where public access is restricted between April and August each year to safeguard the terns during their breeding season. See Figure 1.

Figure 1. The original proposal in respect of the Ythan seal haul-out site as presented in the Consultation document

Figure 1. The original proposal in respect of the Ythan seal haul-out site as presented in the Consultation document

The Consultation

1.11. The Consultation ran for 12 weeks from 7 September to 4 December 2015.

1.12. The Consultation [4] was published on the Scottish Government website together with the Guidance on the Offence of Harassment at Seal Haul-out Sites.

1.13. A number of key stakeholders received an e-mail informing them of the consultation and they were encouraged to disseminate the information in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. The proposal also featured in local news and on social media.

1.14. The Consultation document contained seven questions (Table 1) which sought stakeholders views on three key issues:

  • Whether or not the proposed site should be designated;
  • What potential risks of harassment of seals there are on the proposed site;
  • Whether or not there are sufficient grounds for considering designation before the appropriate period of 5 years and, if so, how quickly this should occur?

Table 1. Consultation Questions




Do you consider that the proposed site should be designated to protect seals from harassment


If you support designation of this site, what are your reasons


If you oppose the designation of this site, what are your reasons


Do you consider that seals on this site are at risk of harassment


What activities do you consider could represent a potential risk of harassment to seals on this particular site


Do you consider that there are grounds for considering designation of this site before the normal review period of 5 years


If yes, how quickly should such a designation occur

1.15. The Consultation attracted 306 unique responses from 6 separate respondent groups. The majority of the questions allowed the insertion of free text and/or additional comments.

The Consultation Report

1.16. This report provides an analysis of the consultation responses and sets out the Scottish Government response. The individual responses to each question were examined together with any comments and key themes were identified.

1.17. The responses reflect views from a range of interested parties, however the majority came from local residents. Other responses included fishing interests, community groups, non-governmental organisations and a local authority (Table & Figure 2).

Table 2. Consultation responses split by respondent group

Respondent Number
Total Individuals 185 (93%)
Total Organisations 28 (7%)
    Community groups 5
    Local authority 1
    Fishing industry 14
    Animal welfare group 7
    Other government body 1
Total Responses 306

Figure 2. Breakdown of respondent groups by stakeholder interest

Figure 2. Breakdown of respondent groups by stakeholder interest


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