Publication - Consultation analysis

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

Published: 30 Sep 2016

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

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Designation of a seal haul-out site in the Ythan Estuary: analysis of consultation responses
2. Responses to the Questions

31 page PDF

2.0 MB

2. Responses to the Questions

Question 1: Do you consider that the proposed site should be designated to protect seals from harassment?

2.1. The responses indicated that 102 respondents (33%) were in favour of the site being designated, whilst 204 (67%) stated they were against designation.

Table 3. Support for designation

Respondent group Yes No
Individuals 90 195
Community group 3 2
Local authority 1 -
Fishing industry - 7
Animal welfare group 7 -
Other government body 1 0
Total (306) 102 (33%) 204 (67%)

Figure 3: Percentage of respondents in each stakeholder group for and against designationQuestion 2: If you support designation of this site, what are your reasons?

Figure 3: Percentage of respondents in each stakeholder group for and against designation

Question 2: If you support designation of this site, what are your reasons?

2.2. There were 102 written comments provided for this question, of which:-

  • 101 comments came from those supporting designation
  • 1 respondent, who was against designation, provided a response stating they would support a haul out on the north shore, or a more contained site.
  • 203 against designation and 1 in favour of designation did not answer this question

2.3. The 101 supportive responses fell into the following broad categories:-

  • 49 respondents expressed concerns about seal conservation in the area and highlighted the importance of protection for seals when they are hauled-out and at their most vulnerable.
  • 31 respondents either named activities that are likely to cause harassment at the site or have already witnessed such harassment.
  • 14 offered strong support for designation provided public access is not restricted on the south shore suggesting a smaller site limited to north shore.
  • 7 respondents strongly supported designation if the site was limited to the north side where they had witnessed disturbance to the seals.

2.4. The respondents were concerned that easy access to the beach where seals haul-out allowed members of the public to get too close to the animals. They supported the haul out designation to prevent this.

Examples of comments submitted in support of designation are included below:

Numerous incidents of varying severity have been reported to me over the past year or so.

I have personally witnessed seal harassment. I believe that the seals can be protected while not affecting the public's right to walk on the South side.

We support designation of this site as numbers of grey seals have been increasing at the Ythan Estuary in recent years, the site now represents one of the largest summer grey seal haul-outs on the east coast of Scotland. Designation would provide appropriate protection to the seals while hauled out and vulnerable.

Question 3: If you oppose the designation of this site, what are your reasons?

2.5. There were 204 responses to this question (see Table 4), of which:-

  • 84 were concerned that public access would be prohibited inside the entire designated area, including the south shore.
  • 70 still considered that protection of seals was necessary but would only support designation of north shore, where seals normally haul-out. Out of these, 10 said they would welcome ways to protect the habitat where seals live and that most users of the area already comply with and would accept new ways to further protect the site.
  • 49 were opposed due to the potential impact on local fishing interests.
  • 1 was strongly against designation because there are far too many seals.
  • 102 in support of designation did not answer this question.

Table 4. Reasons for opposing designation

Respondent group Fear about denial of public access North shore only Impact on fishing Strongly against
Individuals 83 69 42 1
Community - 1 - -
Local authority - - - -
Fishing industry 1   7 -
Animal welfare group - - - -
Other - - - -
Total (204) 84 70 49 1

2.6. There were concerns about public access and suggestions of a restriction on the north shore only.

Examples of comments submitted against designation are included below:

While in favour of protecting endangered species this must be done with sympathy to the needs of the local community and the amenities that they are afforded in the area.

I am generally in support of having a seal haul site on the area where they already land. At the northern shore of the estuary mouth at the end of the dune area, but the area that has been designated in the document appears to be wholly out of proportion to the area that the large seal colony actually use.

I oppose this designation and consider it not appropriate due to the proximity to other wildlife and human users. The seal population has expanded rapidly in the last ten years in the Ythan.

I strongly oppose the designation of this site on the Newburgh side if the estuary (…) In my opinion the Forvie Sands side is where the seals congregate and this is already a partly protected area. These rules could be tightened to prevent harassment without restricting the beach to residents and tourists.

2.7. There were also concerns from fishing interests. Examples included:

In providing selective protection to one specific species, an untoward effect might be to disturb the natural balance of things. Grey seals are top predators, whose natural prey includes salmon and sea trout. Both species of migratory salmonids are in steep and alarming decline - nowhere more evident than on the East Coast of Scotland and in the environs of the Ythan, Ugie, Don and Dee in particular - all prime hunting grounds for the grey seals that frequent the Ythan estuary haul out area.

In the wider scheme of things the Scottish Government ought to give due weight, not only to the welfare of seals, but also to the inversely associated welfare of migratory salmon and sea trout. The importance of these to the economy of the East of Scotland should not be underestimated

The Ythan has been categorised a Grade 2 river by the Scottish Government, which means that Management action is necessary to reduce exploitation of the wild salmon population for conservation purposes. Considering additional protection to the seals (the salmon's main predator in the estuary) is clearly at odds with this obligation. The south side of the estuary is a public amenity and recreational area.

Question 4: Do you consider that seals on this site are at risk of harassment?

2.8. There were 299 responses to this question, of which:-

  • 180 respondents considered there was no harassment at the site. Of these, 4 respondents provided comments suggesting disturbance was sometimes witnessed despite answering "no" to this question.
  • 119 consultees considered that there was harassment at the site . Of these, 22 stated that they had witnessed activities with a negative, harmful and distressing impact to seals.
  • 7 did not answer this question.

Table 5. Whether there is risk of harassment at the proposed site

Respondent group
  Yes No Not answered
Individuals 107 171  
Organisations 12 9  
Total 119 180 7

Examples of comments provided at Question 4 are included below:

  • Do not consider there is risk of harassment

No I do not consider the seals are at risk of harassment at all!

I have indeed occasionally witnessed dogs barking at the seals and jumping into the estuary to try to get to the seals. (…)There is no risk whatsoever that I can see to the burgeoning seal population from people simply looking at them from the opposite side of the estuary.

Occasionally I have seen individuals on the north shore approach the seals. This should be discouraged as it does disturb them. I feel that there are grounds for cordoning off area on the north side of the estuary where they tend to bask.

They of course are not at risk of harassment - that's why they're there!

  • Consider there is risk of harassment/ or have witnessed harassment

Having visited the site and seen the seals stampede into the water because of the actions of people harassing them the protection is definitely required.

(…) have witnessed on a number of locations, people getting too close to take photos causing resting seals to re-enter the water causing stress and energy loss.

I have seen walkers with dogs on the north side of the river where the seals usually reside but this is a very rare occurrence. Seals are already thriving in this area without this increased protection.

Question 5: What activities do you consider could represent a potential risk of harassment to seals on this particular site?

2.9. There were 245 responses to this question both from those who supported the designation and those who did not.

2.10. 168 respondents named activities which might cause harassment and these are shown in Table 6. Almost half of these (n=70) named only one activity, while others mentioned between two and eight activities that could potentially cause harassment.

2.11. The most popular view was that disturbance would be caused by people getting too close. This category included photographers, walkers or tourists who are approaching the seals to either get a closer look or a better picture, despite the warning signage.

2.12. Dog walking was a very close second and fishing was also listed in a large number of responses.

Table 6. Activities considered likely to cause harassment at the proposed haul-out site

Activity Number of times listed
People getting too close (walkers, photographers, tourists) 98
(Irresponsible) dog walkers 93

netting (n= 23)
angling (n= 11)
both (n= 18)

Drones 29
Seal licensing 10
Acoustic Deterrent Devices ( ADDs) 1
Jet skis 8
Litter 6
Leisure boats 7
Quad bikes 6
Human activity in general 4
Canoes 5
Game shooting 3

2.13. Other activities such as drones, canoes, jet skis, leisure boats, game shooting, quad bikes, wind surfing and kite surfing were also mentioned, but in much smaller numbers. The main worry was the noise some of these activities produce.

2.14. Seal licensing (shooting of seals under licence) was mentioned 10 times however it is important to note that there are no seal licences issued in the area. One respondent mentioned the use of Acoustic Deterrent Devices ( ADDs) as a potential activity causing harassment to seals.

2.15. Four said that any human activity could potentially cause harassment.

Examples of activities mentioned are included here:

Seals may be disturbed by dogs swimming in the estuary or by people walking along the sand spit to the north. It is my view that responsible and informed access on the south side does not lead to harassment.

We have had people flying drones close to the colony, which scattered the seals and drove them into the sea, including very young pups. (The police were unable to prosecute due to lack of designation.) Just last Saturday two groups of people approached the seal colony and scared them into the water. (Photographs available.) During a beach party in July youths were seen throwing rocks at seals in the water.

The local angling club (of which I am a member) does provide another potential impact source, as seals are afraid of and try to avoid people standing in or near the water. However, I think that anglers are very cautious (at least I think I am) and try to avoid any disturbance of seals or other wildlife on the banks.

Lack of activity by SNH to exclude access to the north bank outside the bird breeding season could allow harassment.

2.16. A number of respondents (n=68) said that no activity is causing harassment to seals and a few (n=4) thought there was little or no risk to seals from human activity in this area. In their opinion the Ythan seal population is not affected by human activity and seem to be doing well.

Examples included:

Given that seal numbers, mainly greys, have increased from virtually zero a decade ago to around 1300 in 2015 (information from local observers) there is no evidence to suggest human activities have impacted negatively on seal numbers.

There is no evidence to suggest that any harassment of seals ever has taken or ever will, take place.

They grey seal population in the area has dramatically increased in recent years and there seems no evidence that harassment is an issue.

Question 6: Do you consider that there are grounds for considering designation of this site before the normal review period of 5 years?

2.17. A total of 293 responses were submitted at this question (Table 7):

  • 189 answered no to this question and 48 provided explanations in the additional comments box.
  • o 23 gave general comments against the designation with some arguing that the seals are doing well enough without extra protection.
  • o 10 commented that the dramatic increase in the number of seals using the site is a good enough reason not to consider designation before the normal 5 year period.
  • o 7 commented that the site should be confined to the north shore before they could agree with designation.
  • o 4 did not feel there are specific grounds for immediate designation, but agreed that if designation was necessary they would see no reasons for delaying the decision.
  • 104 responded yes and were in favour of the site being considered for designation before the normal review period of 5 years. 67 provided additional comments displaying their support that an action should be taken sooner rather than later.
  • 13 did not answer this question.

Table 7. Whether the site should be designated prior to the normal 5 year review period

Respondent group Yes No
Individuals 92 180
Community group 3 2
Local authority 1 -
Fishing industry - 7
Animal welfare NGOs 7 -
Other government body 1 -
Total (293) 104 189
  • Examples of no responses

Probably there will be no need to reconsider the overall designation of this site, but local factors may become clearer within a short period and an early review, perhaps after one or two years, should help improve its management.

The area should be restricted to the north bank only, in which case I would support a designation at the appropriate time.

The seals are not endangered in this site and, should their numbers continue to increase, may adversely affect the local ecosystem.

  • Examples of yes responses

As the site becomes more well known the levels of harassment have risen and if it continues it may very well damage an important Seal colony before the next review comes round.

If there is a delay in designation there is a risk that those who oppose the presence of the seals will try and scare them away, so that the refuge becomes meaningless.

Question 7: If yes, how quickly should such a designation occur?

2.18. 116 answered this question . This included 25 who had responded no to designation

2.19. 190 did not answer this question.

Table 8. How quickly should designation occur

  Individuals Organisations
After 1 year 9  
After 3 years 9 1
Immediately 85 12
Not answered 182 8