Continuing debate over seal haul out site plans

Seals in the water with the south bank in the background.
Seals in the water with the south bank in the background.

There are continuing debates over the proposed plans for a seal haul out site at the Ythan Estuary in Newburgh.

Concerns have previously been raised over the plans proposed by Marine Scotland which include the whole of the south bank, part of Newburgh Golf Course and part of the sand dunes and beach.

In particular, the River Ythan Trust and the Newburgh Angling Club have voiced their worries over the potential loss of amenities if the plans go ahead.

Secretary of the Newburgh Angling Club, Ron Coutts, said: “The proposal is overzealous and by including such a large area, where no seals are ever seen, it discredits it.

“The large area is an attempt to exercise control over the public, who have done nothing wrong.

“There are many occasions where seals flood into the water when excited.

“Wade in a few feet from the bank, or let your dog in the water and you’ll see. They are by their very nature inquisitive. If this occurred if the proposal was fully accepted you could be reported.

“The proposal will create an opportunity for conflict.”

Local Victor Beattie disagrees that the plans will have any effect on visitor activities.

He said: “The rules regarding protection means that harassment must be both intentional and reckless.

“The Ythan seals are well accustomed to the dog walkers, horse riders and walkers that use the beach and therefore there are no issues for those of us that love the estuary, many of whom visit on a daily basis.

“The protection area in no way prevents the public from enjoying the estuary exactly as they do now.

“There have been a couple of recent incidents of seals being harassed from the south shore and this is why this area is included in the protection area.”

Chair of the Formartine Area Committee Councillor Rob Merson said: “I was approached by a number of local fisheries and angling bodies in 2012 regarding the problem of seal proliferation in the Ythan estuary, and took up those concerns with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & the Environment.

“He instructed officers from Marine Scotland to look into the matter, and I was subsequently invited to Chair a meeting which was attended by officers from Marine Scotland, representatives from the Universities of St. Andrews and Aberdeen, environmental bodies and stakeholders.

“The discussion at that meeting was entirely focussed on the possibility of deploying sonic deterrents to discourage the seals from predating within the estuary and depleting fish stocks in the river.

“I was therefore very disappointed that a proposal to designate the entire area of the estuary as a designated seal haul-out site would now appear to have been progressed on the basis of unsubstantiated reports and allegations of harassment.

“I feel that this proposal is an over-reaction, and trust that the consultation will in due course produce a measured outcome which is based on sound evidence.”

Councillor Merson added: “As matters stand it has been argued that the call for a consultation itself fails to meet the criteria set out in the Marine (Scotland Act) 2010.

“If it should be deemed desirable to grant the additional protection that designation as a seal haul-out site would bring, that does potentially impact on those who use the area for other uses and pastimes.

“I would therefore most certainly be of the view that it should more appropriately be restricted to the north side of the estuary and constrained to the area on which the seals already beach.”

At the Formartine Area Committee meeting held earlier week several members expressed their doubts that such measures were necessary on the site.

The committee agreed that the site should be restricted to the north shore of the estuary and constrained to the area on which the seals currently beach.