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Updated: 1 hour 14 min ago

Responsible wildlife watching around seals

Tue, 2023-09-19 12:18

Scotland is well known for our diverse flora and fauna, both on land and in the sea. Some of the most iconic species seen around our coasts are seals. Scotland is home to a population of approximately 121,000 grey seals and 27,000 harbour (common) seals.

Haul out sites are where seals come out of the water to rest, moult, breed, and to have pups. Seals that are hauled out may be particularly sensitive to approach by humans whether from the land, sea or air and therefore caution is required in such circumstances.

Grey seal cow and pup. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Grey seal cow and pup. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Section 117 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 provides Scottish Ministers with the power to designate seal haul out sites. Following work between the Marine Directorate and the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews a number of sites were identified. A map of all 195 locations can be found here.

Under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 it is an offence to intentionally, or recklessly harass a seal at a designated haul out site. The Marine Directorate has produced guidance which includes examples of actions that might constitute harassment and information on behaving responsibly around seal haul outs.

Karen Hall, NatureScot Marine Ecology Advisor comments:

“We all love to watch wildlife, but we also need to protect it. We’re asking people to stay well clear of the seal haul out sites. At this time of year, grey seals are starting to pup, so it’s a sensitive time for this species. Watching from a distance minimises disturbance and can give great views of natural behaviour.

Seal behaviour

Seals rest on land to conserve energy, or for females to nurse their young. This is also time when the seals can regulate their temperature while they moult, either due to pups growing in their adult fur, or the annual moult of adults. Regulating temperature in water and swimming all expends energy. When forced to enter the water to avoid a perceived threat, seals are stressed and use additional energy. It is also a danger to new pups that may be injured or killed by adults in large groups that rush into the water.

Colony of harbour seals in Millport Bay - Picture courtesy of Jack Lucas. Crown Copyright

Colony of harbour seals in Millport Bay – Picture courtesy of Jack Lucas. Crown Copyright

There are some body language cues that can let you know if you are at risk of disturbing seals. They have a three-stage response to perceived threats:

  1. heads-up – the seals raise their heads and watch your location and approach. If you see this behaviour, you should back away and/or change your method and speed of approach.
  2. movement – the seals will start to shift around and appear agitated. If they were laying on their sides they may move to their stomachs to allow them to retreat. If you notice this behaviour you need to back off from the seals so you do not cause the third stage of the response.
  3. stampede – the seals will quickly retreat from land to the water to escape. This puts the seals at risk of injury as well as any pups that are amongst them.

The Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code (SMWWC) provides recommendations and advice on responsible wildlife watching. Some helpful tips include:

  • look up the site you intend visiting for any local wildlife management information and follow their guidance
  • be aware of the local pupping seasons – avoid visiting breeding sites during these periods
  • keep your distance and keep dogs away as they can cause a stampede response
  • do not try to touch or feed seals, they can move surprisingly fast and as cute as they may appear they are predators and are known to bite
  • never separate pups from mothers as this leads to stress for both and risks abandonment by the mother
  • leave lone pups alone – the mother may only be foraging for food
  • signs that a pup may have been abandoned can be found on the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) website
  • don’t crowd or encircle seals and do not stand between them and an escape route to the water
  • keep the noise down and avoid sudden movements

Going for a walk on the beach is a great way to get a dose of fresh air and daily exercise. Remember to do so safely for the animals that know those beaches as safe places.

Female Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)_©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Female Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)_©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Frequently asked questions What is a designated seal haul out site?

A designated haul out site is any place, which Scottish Ministers designate as such by Order, after consulting with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). These are identified as areas of consistent high density (hotspots) for harbour and grey seals.

What are the 195 sites designated for?

Of a total of 149 haul out sites:

  • 62 are used mainly by harbour seals
  • 20 are used mainly by grey seals
  • 67 are shared by both these species

Additional sites are grey seal breeding colonies, used by this species specifically during their pupping season. All of these sites provide protection all year round.

Are there any times of year that are particularly sensitive?

Harbour seals usually give birth in early summer (June – July) and spend time ashore in August for their annual moult.

Grey seals give birth in the autumn (September – December) and stay on land for several weeks. Adults and pups leave in the spring once they have finished their moult and the pups have been weaned.

What constitutes harassment?

Details on intentional and reckless harassment can be found in the Guidance on the offence of harassment at seal haul out sites.

What should I do if a group of seals reacts to me watching them?

This is an early sign that the seals could be scared from their resting place. If you notice either steps one or two detailed above in the seal behaviour section, you should back away and review your approach.

What should I do if I see a seal that doesn’t look healthy?

You can contact Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA) or BDMLR if you are concerned for the welfare of a seal.

What should I do if I suspect someone of committing an offence by harassing seals?

If you are concerned that you have seen someone commit a wildlife offence please contact the Marine Directorate on 0131 244 2286 or via our website.  Alternatively you can contact Police Scotland on 101 or using their website.

What about other wildlife?

NatureScot’s guide to best practice for watching marine wildlife provides advice on wildlife watching on land and at sea.

What do I do if I find a dead seal?

If you come across a seal carcass, you should contact the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) via phone/text 07979 245893 or email

When you report a dead stranding, please try to provide the following information:

  • date found
  • location (grid reference if possible)
  • photographs of the carcase
  • species or description (see species guide)
  • overall length (estimation)
  • condition of the animal
  • your contact details
Further information

Main picture: harbour seal and pup. Picture provided by Jack Lucas/Crown copyright.

The post Responsible wildlife watching around seals appeared first on Marine.

Funding announced to support protection and restoration of wild salmon

Fri, 2023-09-08 12:27

On 7 September 2023, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, visited the Outer Hebrides to announce over £500,000 in funding to support the protection and recovery of wild salmon populations.

The award will be used by District Salmon Fishery Boards and Fisheries and Rivers Trusts across Scotland to carry out monitoring of adult salmon populations and the sampling of juveniles through the National Electrofishing Programme for Scotland (NEPS). Additionally, it will allow an assessment of interbreeding of wild and escaped farmed salmon through the National Introgression Programme for Scotland (NIPS).

Scotland’s Wild Salmon Strategy and Implementation Plan set out our commitment to protect and restore wild salmon populations, which are in decline. The funding will support the commitment to have a coordinated approach to monitoring wild salmon populations, building on our existing evidence base.

The Cabinet Secretary visited the Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust to observe electrofishing, used to survey fish populations, in action. The Cabinet Secretary said:

“I am delighted to announce a funding package of £500,000 to support wild salmon monitoring in Scotland. It is an example of our commitment to this iconic species, as set out in the Wild Salmon Strategy Implementation Plan which we published earlier this year.

“I am grateful for all the work carried out by District Salmon Fishery Boards and Trusts in support of wild salmon conservation, and it has been great to have the opportunity to see monitoring in action today with the Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust”

Paul Hopper, Senior Biologist, at the Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust said:

“The Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust are delighted to be part of the effort delivering the NEPS project. The design of NEPS means that the trust can visit often overlooked and remote river locations.

“The data gathered on juvenile fish populations is of great interest as are the results from the genetic sampling. Involvement in NEPS 2023 formed part of the trust’s decision to recruit a seasonal assistant who has helped with NEPS and many other projects throughout the Outer Hebrides.

“We are grateful for the excellent local support from fisheries and their assistance with accessing the NEPS sites.”



  • Electrofishing is undertaken by highly trained individuals to survey fish populations using specialist equipment, passing a small electric current through the water so fish can be caught quickly and easily without causing them harm
  • The National Electrofishing Programme for Scotland provides a framework for data collection and analysis that includes a survey design, standard operating procedures and state of the art analysis. This allows the health of juvenile salmon populations to be assessed at site, catchment, regional and national scales
  • Adult salmon sampling provides information on the number, size, sex and age of salmon returning to Scottish rivers, this data supports national and international management of salmon populations
  • The recreational fishing sector is worth £79.9m GVA and supports 4300 jobs in Scotland

The post Funding announced to support protection and restoration of wild salmon appeared first on Marine.

Pink salmon: an invasive non-native species

Thu, 2023-09-07 13:55

The Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government is working with Fisheries Management Scotland (FMS), NatureScot and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to co-ordinate a monitoring programme for invasive non-native pink salmon (‘Oncorhynchus gorbuscha’).  

Sightings in Scottish waters  

Pink salmon have a two-year lifecycle and most have been recorded,  in Scotland, during odd numbered years.  A joint opinion piece paper published by the Marine Directorate, NatureScot and FMS discussed the potential impact pink salmon could be having on native species and habitats in Scotland. Following the increase in pink salmon observations the paper highlighted the need for improved monitoring of the species in Scottish rivers. 

Pink salmon monitoring using eDNA

The Marine Directorate has since been working with district salmon fishery boards to look at the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for the monitoring of pink salmon in Scottish rivers. Preliminary data generated to date has allowed us to design a much broader monitoring campaign, which was launched earlier this year.

Water samples were collected from 30 rivers across Scotland, in collaboration with FMS, SEPA and NatureScot. Using eDNA-based approaches, information can now be obtained on the presence and distribution of pink salmon in our rivers, which was previously not possible. This data will help to identify where management, and possible control actions, should be focussed to help combat the increase of this invasive non-native species.  

This video shows how our science colleagues monitor using this method.

Map showing where pink salmon have been reported. Supplied by Fisheries Management Scotland (FMS)

Map of Pink salmon report areas supplied by Fisheries Management Scotland (FMS)

Reporting pink salmon  

FMS has produced detailed guidance to help identify and report incidences of pink salmon and view the findings in real time. 

If you see a pink salmon, or accidentally catch one while fishing for other species, we are looking for your help to gather as much information as possible.  

Further information

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How Scotland’s wild Atlantic salmon are faring

Wed, 2023-08-16 13:26

A leaping salmon, achieving the seemingly impossible to return to the upper parts of the very river in which it hatched after a year or more in the ocean, remains one of the most iconic images of Scotland’s wildlife. But how are Scotland’s wild Atlantic salmon faring? As our consultation on proposals for the conservation of Atlantic salmon during the 2024 fishing season launches, we look at some of the scientific data that underpins the management of this remarkable fish.

Every year scientists from the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government assess the status of 173 Scottish salmon stocks using information collected from river fisheries and automatic fish counters combined with environmental information, such as water flow. The stock levels over the past five years are compared to an internationally agreed benchmark which aims to maintain stocks at sustainable levels. This allows the stocks to be categorized as in good, moderate or poor status with the reduction in salmon numbers driving an increase in the number of stocks in poor status (Figure 1).

Graph showing the decline in the number of stocks in good conservation status from 61 for the 2017 angling season to 34 for 2024. The number in moderate conservation status has remained relatively constant at approximately 30. The number of stocks in poor conservation status has increased from 75 for 2017 to 112 for 2024

Figure 1: The number of stocks assessed as being in good, moderate or poor conservation status (out of 173 stocks) for the 2016-2024 angling seasons.

The larger rivers, which contain most of Scotland’s wild salmon, tend to be in good conservation status. This means that approximately 80% of the total number of fish estimated to be in Scottish rivers are from areas in good conservation status.  However, declines in the number of salmon in areas in good conservation status highlights the need for action to safeguard this iconic species.

The proposed grades for the 2024 angling season highlight that the majority of stocks (112 out of 173) are thought to be in poor conservation status and these are spread throughout the country (Figure 2).

Map showing conservation status of the 173 stocks for the 2024 angling season.

Figure 2: Proposed conservation status of the 173 assessed stocks for the 2024 angling season.

The number of wild Atlantic salmon returning to Scottish coastal waters has declined since estimates began in the 1970s (Figure 3).

graph showing the decline in the number of salmon returning to the Scottish coast from roughly 1,000,000 in the early 1970s to around 400,000 in recent years. Over the same period the number of spawners increased from around 380,000 in the early 1970s to a high point of 670, 000 in 2010 before declining to around 350,000 in recent years.

Figure 3: Estimated number of wild Atlantic salmon returning to the Scottish coast together with estimates of the number surviving to spawn in Scottish rivers (source: returns to coast ICES WGNAS/MSS; spawner numbers MSS).












Fisheries managers have been able to offset these declines by greatly restricting the killing of wild salmon in fisheries, but since around 2010 there has also been a decline in the spawning stock.

The reasons behind the widespread fall in wild salmon numbers in Scotland and across the North Atlantic ocean are highly complex. The evidence suggests that changes in oceanic conditions driven by climate change are at least partly to blame, but it is likely that many different factors in rivers and at sea play a role.

To address the declines and build resilience in salmon populations to the effects of climate change we worked together with multiple partner organisations to develop the Scottish Wild Salmon Strategy and accompanying Implementation Plan.

Alongside reducing pressure from fisheries, actions under the plans include supporting planting riverside trees to shade rivers from rising temperatures and restoring natural river flows by removing obsolete weirs and dams. Steps are also proposed to minimise the impacts of salmon farming on wild populations as well as continuing to co-operate internationally to improve the survival of salmon at sea.

Have your say on proposals for the conservation of Atlantic salmon during the 2024 fishing season by taking part in our consultation which runs until 8 September 2023.

The post How Scotland’s wild Atlantic salmon are faring appeared first on Marine.

Assessing the social impacts of inshore Marine Protected Areas and proposed Priority Marine Feature Management Areas

Fri, 2023-07-21 12:04

Scotland has some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world. The Scottish Government is committed to protecting and enhancing these to ensure they are safeguarded for future generations to enjoy and to support marine industries which rely upon them. Marine Protected Areas are one tool that the Scottish Government uses to seek to ensure that some of the most vulnerable species and habitats are restored and resilient to future changes by removing the pressures that affect them.


The existing MPA network consists of a range of sites both inshore and offshore in Scottish Waters. We are currently developing the fisheries management measures required to manage Scotland’s existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) network and to protect the 11 most vulnerable Priority Marine Features.


Ahead of the planned public consultation on proposed fisheries management measures in 2024, we’ve commissioned consultants to undertake a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the draft proposals. This will be undertaken in line with new guidance, developed with stakeholders in 2022, to improve the way local and social impacts are accounted for when we carry out SEIAs.


Following this new approach, we wanted to better understand how coastal and island communities value their marine environment and the benefits that it provides to local communities and businesses, so worked with contractors to arrange research events across Scotland. These events, held in July 2023, were aimed at gathering information on the possible social and economic impacts to coastal and island communities from the proposed fisheries management measures.


Events were held in Lerwick, Stornoway, Peterhead, Ullapool, Oban and Troon and included public drop in sessions and dedicated workshops. In total over 300 individuals came along to discuss their thoughts with the team and provide input on the possible social impacts of marine protection. The workshops were attended by representatives from community councils, commercial fisheries, aquaculture, local authorities, tourism providers, eNGOs and academic researchers.


At these events, Scottish Government shared information about the types of MPAs and Priority Marine Features management areas in the local area and the possible fisheries management measures.


Attendees spoke about what they value in their local area, their connections to the marine environment and how they felt management of fisheries for biodiversity in their area would impact their lives and communities, both positively or negatively.


A Social Impact Assessment will be produced based on the input from stakeholders and will inform and accompany the SEIA. These reports and full details of the proposed fisheries management measures will be subject to public consultation in 2024.


The maps of MPAs and fisheries management measures shared at the events are shown on the Marine Directorates Information site. For more general information on MPAs please see;


The post Assessing the social impacts of inshore Marine Protected Areas and proposed Priority Marine Feature Management Areas appeared first on Marine.

When compliance searched for science

Mon, 2023-06-12 10:57

In Spring 2023, the search and rescue skills of colleagues from the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government on board our Marine Protection Vessel (MPV) Jura were called on to help locate and recover a lost scientific seaglider. This is equipment from the Scottish Association for Marine Science’s (SAMS) Climate Linked Atlantic Sector Science Programme (CLASS) project.


Seagliders are relatively small, underwater autonomous vehicles and are often deployed for months at a time. This particular glider, named Denebola, had been carrying out measurements of warm water flow from Atlantic to Arctic waters across the Scottish shelf break when it experienced a technical failure.


SAMS Marine Robotics Technical Manager, Estelle Dumont, explained:


“The underwater glider Denebola was deployed in November as part of the international Climate Linked Atlantic Sector Science Programme (CLASS) project, studying the North Atlantic climate and circulation. The glider had been carrying out key oceanographic measurements when the technical failure stopped it being able to dive or manoeuvre, and it began to drift off towards the Rockall Trough.”


MPV Jura was deployed on routine duties along the West Coast and was asked to assist in the recovery operation. The challenge was not only looking for a small seaglider in a vast and open sea area, but also its recovery due to a sizeable sea swell (caused by ocean waves) with poor conditions. A window of opportunity opened on 10 March and MPV Jura was re-tasked to depart at 6am from Barra Head, Hebrides in search of Denebola.


The seaglider’s position pinged every four hours so the crew of MPV Jura set their course towards its last known position. With a swell of between two and three meters, the seaglider was constantly being jostled and was nowhere to be seen. Employing some search and rescue techniques the crew embarked on an expanding box search, where a start point is chosen and the vessel plots a track in an outward square spiral – within 45 minutes the seaglider had been spotted and the rigid inflatable boat (RIB) was launched. The seaglider was successfully recovered and returned to SAMS.


Commanding Officer of the Scottish Government Marine Directorate, Mark Warsnop, recalls:


“The conditions were far from perfect with a two to three meter swell but we knew we could just about launch and recover. The recovery itself wasn’t exactly textbook due to the conditions but it was done without incident, thankfully.”


Denebola was taken for repairs at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton to re-join the national pool of seagliders.


Estelle said:


“We are extremely grateful for the Marine Directorate of the Scottish Government crew of MPV Jura for recovering our faulty seaglider and meeting us on our doorstep at Dunstaffnage. Denebola will hopefully be in working order soon but we are pleased to say that a replacement seaglider, Eltanin, has been deployed for the project.”


You can follow Eltanin’s journey through this project on the SAMS website!



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World Ocean Day : Despite huge marine wealth, Scotland cannot act

Fri, 2023-06-09 10:58

This opinion piece was published in The National to mark World Ocean Day on Thursday 8th June 2023. 

Scotland’s seas are nearly six times larger than the land area of Scotland and provide our nation with huge potential. So it is fitting that today, on World Ocean Day, we celebrate all that they contribute to our economic, environmental and social wellbeing

Every day, people go to work in often challenging – occasionally dangerous – conditions in our seas to bring us food and energy, to create knowledge or a better marine environment, to take us closer to the abundant flora and fauna that exist in our waters, some of which is unique to Scotland. I thank them all for all that they do, not just on World Ocean Day, but every day.

By using our powers where we can, devolution has delivered tangible economic, social and environmental benefits for our nation and especially our island and coastal communities. Our seafood sector accounted for 60% of Scotland’s food exports in 2021 and we have the third largest salmon aquaculture sector in the world, with 75% of the sector’s supply chain based here in Scotland, creating additional jobs and businesses.

We also have a strong track record in protecting our marine environment, with 37% of our seas already designated as marine protected areas, and we are taking a global leadership role on blue carbon research and knowledge exchange.

However, we know that our marine environment and natural resources are under pressure like never before. The twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss are impacting on the health of our oceans worldwide – a fact also being acknowledged today.

I know that Scotland’s fishing and seafood industry values a healthy marine environment as much as the Scottish Government does. More than any of us, they understand the importance of protecting and enhancing our marine environment, not least for the benefit of future generations.

And today, I want to assure our fishing industry that there will continue to be space for fishing to operate in Scotland’s waters in a sustainable and responsible way, now and in the future.

Our seas are also under threat in a political sense. Westminster has shown itself to be utterly dismissive of Scotland’s unique needs and willing to take actions that hurt our blue economy.

Scotland – our marine industries, and island and coastal communities especially – is being harmed by Brexit through trade barriers, reduced access to labour and, for some, fewer fishing opportunities than under the Common Fisheries Policy.

That Scotland, with almost two thirds of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (the area of the sea where coastal countries have exclusive sovereign rights and duties), cannot negotiate for its own interests diminishes our influence in Europe and the world.

We cannot afford to be bystanders hoping that others will take the right decisions for us, watching on as our marine interests and coastal communities are put at risk.

With independence, Scotland would be able to apply to join the EU, giving Scottish seafood exporters unrestricted access to the world’s biggest single market and allowing businesses, communities and our science sector to once again benefit from freedom of movement within the EU.

Independence would allow us to champion Scotland’s interests at the heart of the EU: based on the size and strength of our marine sector, Scotland could expect to have significant influence. We would be able to negotiate a fair share of funding to invest in our seafood industry, our coastal communities and our marine science sector, prioritising our marine interests instead of watching them be diluted by wider UK objectives.

Independence would give us a voice on the world stage and the ability to join international bodies in our own right, enabling us to work with like-minded nations to tackle shared challenges that do not respect national boundaries.

To meet the challenges we face, Scotland must have a voice on the issues and laws that affect our communities. Decisions should be made by those with the greatest stake in them and those who will be most affected by them – the people of Scotland.

Scotland is a proud marine and maritime nation. Our seas, coasts and islands have shaped our identity, our culture and our way of life. Our blue economy continues to underpin our coastal and island communities.

The opportunities for Scotland’s marine sector are great, but we can only fully realise that potential with the full powers of independence.

Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands

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