The Ythan estuary is one of Scotland’s lesser known nature reserves. The estuary sits around 10 miles north of Aberdeen. The estuary composes of a northern and southern sandy shores. The southern shore has rising dunes and a wide expanse of pristine sand. It is popular amongst locals for walks, angling and water sports during the warmer weather. Donald Trumps controversial golf course is situated very close to the southern shore.
The north shore lies next to a protected and managed habitat home to lots of wildlife and nesting populations of sea birds in the summer. Access the northern shore is regulated during the summer months for the protected nesting bird species. The banks of the northern shore are also home to a very large seal population which can be seen in numbers exceeding 1000 individuals at anyone time.
The seals numbers have gradually increased over the past 10 years however, a study in 2014 showed that the seal numbers had nearly doubled within a few years. It was thought that southern populations of seals were migrating north to make use of the seals new haul out zone. The seals have relative peace and quiet on the northern beach in the summer time as it is closed to the public due to the protection of the nesting sea birds. However, they are exposed to high levels of disturbance during the rest of the year when access to the northern shore is not as strictly regulated.
The sight of the seals has become a local wildlife attraction and people would often approach the colony and disturb the seals. The disturbance is often displayed by panic and large number of seals rushing into the water all at once for safety.
Dogs would also approach the seals both in the water and on the beach. Bull seals can weigh over 100kg and be incredibly aggressive during the breeding season. A dog would be no match against a seal bull in the water. An incident reported in 2012 when a Labrador was killed by a seal. The dog was playing in the water shallows near the colony and was mauled to death. The incident brought the exposure of the seal colony and the question of the protection of the public to the attention of the local council. However at this point only signs were erected to warn about the danger of the seals and not to approach the colony. The area was still not designated a haul out zone.
In 2014, the increasing seal population came into conflict with local fisheries. The seals would swim around anglers boats and steal fish off the lines. They were also reported to be the source of a declining population of flatfish with estuary. Though there was little evidence frequency in which seals would steal from the anglers. There was concern from locals about how the tourism of the area would be effected by reduced angling activity around the seals presence. Audio deterrents were deployed to encourage the seals to leave the anglers alone and that proved to be an effective solution.
The largest conflict facing the Ythan seal population occurred in 2014, when a local fishery acquired the rights to fish for salmon and trout just south off the estuary mouth. There was concern that the seals were damaging the fishing equipment and stealing fish. There was an application for a seal culling license to manage the rogue seals. This however proved to be an unpopular decision and the fishing company withdrew the application under public pressure and sought other non lethal methods of deterring the seals.
Over the last few years the estuary has grown in popularity and the seal colony was exposed to high levels of disturbance on the beach and within the water. However, a excellent step forward was made in protecting the seals came into force on the 4th of May this year. The Holyrood environment committee named it an offence to harass the seals hauled out on the northern bank of the Ythan estuary. The Ythan estuary has officially been designated Scotland’s latest protected seal haul out zone under the Marine (Scotland) Act, 2010.
The seals are now protected from harassment of local admirers who are free to observe the seals from the southern bank of the estuary. This allows them to view the seals very closely but not close to cause an alarm. This can only be classed as a success story in the protection of Scotland’s wildlife and conservation efforts of lots off different wildlife campaigners.
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