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Further Protection for Common Seals

New measures to protect common seals around Scotland come into force today.

The Conservation of Seals (Scotland) Order 2007 effectively extends the current close season to the whole year in Shetland, Orkney and an area of the east coast between Stonehaven and Dunbar. There has been a fall of around 40% in common seal numbers in these areas.

Under the Order the shooting of common seals will only be possible with a licence from the Scottish Executive or under the terms of the ‘netsmen’s defence’ – to protect fishing nets or catches.

It is unlikely that any single factor is responsible for the reduction in numbers. There is no evidence it is a direct result of the phocine distemper virus outbreak amongst seals in 2002, since no large numbers of carcasses were reported at that time. It is unlikely to be a direct result of shooting alone for similar reasons. It is also unclear whether this reduction is a short term or longer term phenomenon.

The Executive, Scottish Natural Heritage and Sea Mammal Research Unit will monitor the effectiveness of the new Order and consider research into the possible causes of the decline in common seal numbers.

In December 2006, the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) Report for 2006 highlighted a significant reduction in common seal numbers in the Northern Isles (i.e. Orkney and Shetland) of about 42% between 2001 and 2006 and a similar reduction in the Firth of Tay of around 48% between 2002 and 2006. This was based on common seal surveys undertaken in August 2006 with details as follows:

Location      2001          2006
Shetland 4883          3021
Orkney 7752          4256
Firth of Tay 668 (2002)  342

There is no suggestion of a comparable reduction in common seal numbers in the Outer or Inner Hebrides or in the Moray Firth (where a seal conservation order is already in place). The Conservation of Seals (Scotland) Order 2004, currently in place in the Moray Firth, appears to have reduced pressure on the local seal population. There is no evidence of common seals moving to adjacent regions that might explain the reduction in the Northern Isles although there is some limited evidence of such movement into the Firth of Forth that might explain part of the reduction in the Tay.

The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 specifies fines of up to a maximum of £2,500 for those convicted of shooting seals illegally.

Enquiries and applications for seal licences should be addressed to the Scottish Executive on 0131 244 6231.

Wild Scotland sits on the Scottish Seals Forum which provides a forum for discussion on seal management issues in Scotland. The Scottish Seals Forum meets once a year and is chaired by the Scottish Executive. For more info, click here.

Press release issued by Scottish Executive on 23rd March 2007

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