Protection area for Ythan seals designated

The estuary attracts hundreds of seals
The estuary attracts hundreds of seals

New measures to protect seals at an Aberdeenshire beauty spot have been approved by the Scottish Government.

It makes it an offence to harass the mammals when they are out of the water at the Ythan Estuary, either intentionally or recklessly.

Seals at the Ythan estuary with the south bank in the background

Seals at the Ythan estuary with the south bank in the background

Holyrood’s environment, climate change and land reform committee agreed the move on Tuesday.

It means a protection area will be designated at the estuary, which hundreds of seals currently inhabit.

The decision comes after legislation was brought forward in 2014 making it an offence to “recklessly or intentionally harass” seals at 194 locations around Scotland.

Campaigners have also been calling for the site in Aberdeenshire to be given the same protection.

The order, which is an amendment to the legislation brought in more than two years ago, will designate a site adjacent to the mouth of the River Ythan.

A public consultation on the issue was held between September and December, 2015, involving volunteer groups, scientists and a range of marine industries.

The focus has been on the north bank of the estuary, where the seals are predominantly found.

Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin said: “The beach at Newburgh is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in Scotland and visitors regularly go there to see its natural beauty.

“Hundreds of seals inhabit the area they call home, feeding in the nearby waters and rearing pups.

“I am delighted the Scottish Government have taken the necessary steps to amend the legislation and include Ythan Estuary.”

She added: “It is a fantastic place for residents and tourists alike to visit right on our very doorstep.

“The seals can be viewed from the southern shore, which provides a great view and does not inadvertently disturb the seals.”

Ron Macdonald, former head of policy and advice at Scottish Natural Heritage, is a regular visitor to the Ythan estuary.

He said: “I welcome the much-needed protection of the seal haul-out from the small minority of people who intentionally and recklessly harass the seals.”