Community pulls together to safeguard seals

18 September 2019

NatureScot has teamed up with a local community to help people enjoy one of Scotland’s best wildlife spectacles responsibly.

Up to 2,000 grey seals haul out on the sand banks of the Ythan at Forvie National Nature Reserve (NNR) to rest, creating a wonderful opportunity for wildlife watching.

Concerns have frequently been raised about the potential for the seals to be disturbed by visitors walking down the north shore of the river.  Past incidents have resulted in hundreds of seals rushing into the water which is both detrimental to the seals and spoils the experience for others.

In response to these concerns, NatureScot is working with the newly formed Newburgh and Ythan Community Trust and other local partners to improve the car park, paths and viewing points on the Newburgh beach side of the Ythan, near the haul out site.

From this location wildlife lovers have the best view of the seals across the river while also ensuring that they are not scared off the beach.

David Pickett, NatureScot’s Forvie nature reserve manager, said: “Seeing thousands of seals hauled up together on the beach is truly amazing and we’d encourage people to experience this unforgettable encounter with nature.

“We’ve been working with the local community over the last few years to help people enjoy this spectacle without disturbing the seals. Further improvements will make it even easier for people to find the best place to see the seals.”

Ron Macdonald, a trustee of the Newburgh & Ythan Community Trust, said: “We’re keen to improve the visitor experience in viewing the seals from the Newburgh side of the estuary and are negotiating a long term lease with The Udny Trust who own the land.

“This will enable us to apply for funding to build a new all abilities trail and a viewing platform together with revamping the car park and upgrading existing paths.”

Rope and signage remains in place at Forvie on the north side of the river to urge people to keep their distance to avoid disturbing the seals.

Visitors are reminded that if one or two seals raise their heads then they are already too close. The Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code provides lots of advice on how to enjoy watching marine wildlife responsibly.

The Ythan Estuary seal haul-out site was designated in 2017 to provide additional protection for the seals from any intentional or reckless harassment. Across Scotland there are 195 designated seal haul-out sites.