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First Ministers Statement 20th April 2021

On Tuesday 20th April, the First Minister gave an update on changes to COVID-19 restrictions which come into effect from Monday (26 April). Read the full statement here.

The following timetable of easing restrictions was outlined:

  • 26th April – whole of Scotland moves to level 3
  • 17th May – Level 2 – for example that from 17 May people will be able to meet in small numbers in each other’s homes for the first time in a long time, there will be further reopening of hospitality, and outdoor contact sport for adults will resume.
  • 7th Jun – Level 1
  • End of June – Level 0
  • Summer – a move to “something more like normality”

From Monday 26th April Tourism will reopen across Scotland – key points 

  • all remaining travel restrictions will be lifted on 26 April for travel anywhere in Scotland, and for travel between Scotland, England and Wales. So from Monday, you can travel anywhere across Britain for any purpose. We will also remove restrictions on Monday on travel to and from Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man – though people should check the rules on entry to each of these territories before you travel.
  • Tourist accommodation can re-open from Monday 26th April. However in self-catering accommodation, the rules on indoor meetings still apply. Which means that, until 17 May, two households can’t stay in the same accommodation.
  •  lateral flow testing will be available to anyone in Scotland from 26 April. You can order later flow test online for delivery to your home – and you can find information on how to do that on the Scottish Government’s website. Alternatively, you can collect the tests from Covid testing centres in the afternoon or early evening.
  • Island communities are being kept at the same level as the rest of the country at the moment, to allow travel between island communities and the rest of Scotland. “So If you are planning to travel to an island  we do encourage you to take two lateral flow tests before you depart.
    The second test should be on the day that you are planning to travel, and the first should be three days before you travel. That means that if you test positive, you have a chance to take a PCR test – which is more sensitive – to confirm the result before making a final decision on cancelling your visit.”
  • Physical Distancing rules remain the same
  • Other changes that come into force from Monday are as follows:
    • Retail can open
    • Takeaway can open from inside
    • Hospitality can open – outdoors 6 people/ 6 households and alcohol permitted. Indoors until 8:00 pm, no alcohol 6 people from 2 households,
    • Non-essential informal childcare can re-start;
    • Non-essential work is again permitted inside people’s homes. That includes cleaning – and also repair work, and painting and decorating;
    • Driving lessons and driving tests can resume;
    • Gyms and swimming pools can re-open for individual exercise; and
    • Indoor attractions and public buildings – such as galleries, museums and libraries – are also able to re-open from Monday.

Collection of Customer Data

Updated multi-sector guidance to support customer and visitor data gathering for businesses and other establishments to assist contact tracing as part of NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system. Please see the guidance here:

  • Key change, data should now be collected from each member of the party not just the lead member.

Tourism and Hospitality Guidance

Guidance for the tourism and hospitality sector, including procedures for staff and customer safety and an operations checklist, has been published ahead of the 26 April reopening. Guidance covering Wedding receptions and funeral wakes is also included.


Further updates

Updated guidance on face coverings and face masks has also been published. The guidance includes information on face coverings in the workplace and additional information for businesses or operators carrying out close contact work. In addition, a general advice card for everyone at work has been published and a specific advice card for those working in the waste sector providing guidance for managers and workers is also now available.


Business Support

Find Business Support

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First Minister Update on changes to COVID-19 restrictions – 13th April 2021

Today the First Minister gave an update on changes to COVID-19 restrictions. She said, while the data will continue to be monitored, there is now extreme confidence that parts of the country currently in level 4 will move to level 3 on 26 April. Island communities currently in level 3 will likely remain at that level for three further weeks. Read the full statement here.

Updated Strategic Framework Protection Level tables have been published showing the route map for future easings. These include new limits on attendance at public events tailored to individual settings based on available space for physical distancing from Level 2 and below. Self-assessment guidance will be published to enable businesses to calculate the specific limits for their premises.

The First Minister also confirmed the Stay Local requirement will be lifted from Friday (16 April) which will allow travel anywhere within Scotland for the purposes of outdoor socialising, recreation, or informal exercise. In addition, from the same date, rules for meeting people outdoors will change to allow a maximum of six adults, from up to six households. Read more here.

The Scottish Government’s timetable for easing restrictions has been published. The timetable sets out how and when we plan to lift the current coronavirus restrictions over the coming weeks and months.


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SSDA announces new Chief Executive and marketing platform to drive bold ambitions and vision for the South of Scotland


cid:image001.png@01D7247B.6685C8A0The South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA), today announced the organisation’s first major steps to making the South a world-class destination and supporting the region’s economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19, with the appointment of their inaugural Chief Executive and the unveiling of a new look Scotland Starts Here campaign.

Ross McAuley, a Scot with more than 20 years international commercial, entrepreneurial and marketing experience, will take on the leadership role in May. In addition to driving forward the SSDA’s ambitious destination development plans, which include increasing tourism spend in the region to £1bn by 2030 and creating 6,500 new jobs, he will oversee the SSDA’s commitment to enabling the region’s tourism and hospitality industry to recover and flourish in the wake of Covid-19.


Ross has a strong track record in destination management and tourism having previously led ground-breaking global tourism initiatives in the Middle East including nine years at luxury hospitality brand Jumeirah Group, followed by building a successful global travel and tourism consultancy business. His experience in challenging the status quo, developing insights into regional and cultural behaviour, promoting destinations and increasing visitor market share will help SSDA develop the South of Scotland as a new destination for visitors far and wide.


He joins the SSDA team, led by Project Manager Jemma Reid, who today brought together Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders as one destination through Scotland Starts Here, a marketing campaign and information hub for all those looking to discover the very best the South of Scotland has to offer. Now featuring over 1000-member businesses, travel inspiration and experience finders, this campaign signals a pivotal phase of SSDA’s marketing and product development activity.


Commenting on today’s announcement, Ross said“The South is the hidden gem of Scotland, overlooked in the past as a destination but with a proud history, stunning landscape, great people and enormous potential to engage and inspire. By bringing Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders together, we’re creating a new destination with the scale to bring tourism spend to local communities, and that really excites me.


“Clearly, the impact of Covid-19 has been felt far and wide through local businesses and communities while at the same time completely disrupting the travel market. However, I believe that tourism will bounce back strongly – I can’t wait to join the team and help develop a sustainable tourism strategy in a way that leads to opportunities for both businesses and communities as well as attracting investment. Scotland Starts Here is our first step on that journey taking the South of Scotland to new audiences.”


Stretching from coast to coast across the spectacular region, Scotland Starts Here comprises a website and app that will be supported by digital marketing activity including podcasts, eBooks, videos, blogs, social media channels and advertising campaigns. It will showcase to local communities and visitors, that Scotland’s identity and soul were born in the South – not only in location, but also as an area that has shaped the nation’s history and culture for centuries.


By promoting the South of Scotland as a new destination for visitors to discover and explore, Scotland Starts Here puts a spotlight on authentic local experiences and award-winning products and businesses. It will increase visitor awareness of what the area has to offer while inspiring more day visits, short breaks and holidays. The website also includes a Travel Partners section designed to help Travel Trade Agents build trip itineraries and access marketing information.


Alongside the marketing activity, SSDA will also be running a year-long business engagement and product development programme, aimed at helping members through the recovery period, upskilling them and inspiring their own future business development. Amongst many areas, this will include digitalisation, business collaborations, developing bookable products and experiences, agritourism, supply chain partnerships, education and skills and travel trade training and sale.


David Ibbotson, Chair of SSDA, commented“This is an exciting time for SSDA. With our members and region preparing for reopening later in the Spring, we’re delighted to have Ross at the helm as we embark on our next stage. Since forming last year, we’ve already undertaken a busy six-month programme of business events and training, putting in place a solid foundation from where we can work with members and build the right recovery programme for the South of Scotland. We’ve been so encouraged by business and member feedback and the support of our partners, and that has all come together through the new Scotland Starts Here campaign. The South has always been the poor relation in terms of awareness and visitor numbers, but now we can’t wait to show Scotland and the world the magical region we have on our doorstep!”


Professor Russel Griggs OBE, Chair of South of Scotland Enterprise said: “I am delighted to welcome Ross as  CEO of the SSDA.  Ross brings with him a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience which aligns with our bold ambitions and huge vision for the South of Scotland. When we announced our investment of £2.7m in the SSDA just four months after going live as SOSE, we made it clear that it was confirming our commitment at a crucial time – to look beyond Covid-19 to the future growth and sustainability of the economy of the South of Scotland.


“Our collective aim is to make the region a world-class visitor destination attracting people to live, work, visit and invest in the area for many years to come, and whilst we could never have anticipated the unprecedented challenge that COVID-19 has brought to our economy – we must focus on an optimistic future and one which makes our economy stronger than ever. Having SSDA now in place and now announcing the appointment of its hugely experienced and passionate leader marks significant steps forward for the region. This, combined with the appointment of our own new permanent CEO in Jane Morrison-Ross who joined us in February, provides us with two new, very experienced leaders who will provide part of an ambitious future for both organisations.  These two strong leaders of both SOSE and SSDA will form part of an important partnership across the South of Scotland which is vital for our recovery and we look forward to working with Ross and the team at SSDA to make it happen.”


VisitScotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead said: “We’re delighted to welcome Ross Macauley as the inaugural CEO of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance. His appointment comes at an important time for tourism in the South of Scotland, as the industry faces the difficult challenge of recovering from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.


“After a year of job losses and business closures, it will take time, significant investment, funding support and strong leadership to rebuild this vital part of Scotland’s economy. With the right support and partnership working between agencies and industry tourism and events can lead the economic recovery and boost inward investment where it is needed most.


“There has been a renewed commitment to the south of Scotland in the past three years and the South of Scotland Destination Alliance now has the opportunity to build on this activity with the launch of the new-look Scotland Starts Here campaign and promote the wealth of experiences on offer across the region.


“Tourism is a force for good and if managed responsibly, sustains communities in every corner of Scotland, creating jobs, tackling depopulation and improving the wellbeing of everyone who experiences it.


“We look forward to working together with Ross and the SSDA to support the recovery of this vital part of Scotland’s economy.”



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Pictured: Langholm Moor © David Lintern / John Muir Trust.

South of Scotland’s biggest community buyout completes

The South of Scotland’s largest community buyout has been legally completed following one of the most ambitious community fundraising campaigns ever seen and paving the way for the creation of a vast new nature reserve in Dumfries and Galloway.

The landmark agreement of £3.8 million for 5,200 acres of land and six residential properties was reached between The Langholm Initiative charity and Buccleuch last October, after the community of Langholm’s six-month fundraising drive reached its target in the final two days.

With the transfer of ownership finalised, the community now owns the land for the first time in its history. Work is to begin immediately on creating the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve to help tackle climate breakdown, restore nature, and support community regeneration.

Margaret Pool, Chair of The Langholm Initiative, said: “Together we’ve achieved something which once seemed impossible, and today we can celebrate as a new era begins for this special land with which our community has such a deep and long-standing connection.

“Our sincere, heartfelt thanks go to so many people for making this historic moment for Langholm happen – including the generous donors and tireless volunteers, and to Buccleuch for being so supportive and positive in their approach.” 

Benny Higgins, Executive Chairman of Buccleuch, said: “To have concluded the sale to the community is a fantastic achievement, and a great example of what can be achieved when communities and businesses like Buccleuch engage openly with one another and work to a common goal. This was achieved by goodwill and working together, following voluntarily all the relevant guidance and protocols.

“We look forward to seeing the plans for the area coming to life over the coming months, and wish The Langholm Initiative all the very best with this.

“Buccleuch has been reducing the footprint of its landholdings in the last decade and, having sold approximately 30,000 acres of land in this period to farmers and community organisations, we will continue to reinvest revenue from land sales into a variety of business projects across the farming, forestry, renewable energy, and leisure and hospitality sectors.”

The Langholm Initiative has set up Tarras Valley Nature Reserve for the day-to-day running of the ambitious new venture, and is currently recruiting two new members of staff who will oversee the landscape-scale nature-restoration project.

Globally important peatlands and ancient woods will be restored, native woodlands established, and a haven ensured for wildlife including rare hen harriers, the UK’s most persecuted bird of prey. Plans for community regeneration include new nature-based tourism opportunities.

Discussions are continuing between The Langholm Initiative and Buccleuch over another 5,300 acres of land the community wishes to buy, and which could double the size of the new nature reserve.

After the launch of the community’s fundraising drive last May, The Langholm Initiative had until 31 October to raise the funds for the deal, to avoid the withdrawal of a £1m offer from the Scottish Land Fund. At times the project appeared to be seriously at risk.

Other major funders supporting the project are South of Scotland Enterprise, John Muir Trust, The Carman Family Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation and The Bently Foundation. 

The charity’s public crowdfunder, supported by nearly 4,000 people from around the world, reached its £200,000 target after a surge of over £50,000 in donations during its final week, including £24,000 on one day alone.

In the final 48 hours, with the community still some £150,000 short of the total funds needed, The Woodland Trust agreed to contribute £200,000 – taking The Langholm Initiative over the line.

Leading charities that have supported the buyout include Borders Forest Trust, Rewilding Britain, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, and Trees for Life.

The Langholm Initiative now aims to show how community ownership can be a catalyst for regeneration with the environment at its heart, and hopes its success will inspire other communities in Scotland and across the UK. 

The Langholm Initiativeformed in 1994 as one of south Scotland’s first development trusts, facilitates projects making a lasting difference to the local area and people. See

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Scotland, Yours to Enjoy. Responsibly

We cannot wait to start welcoming visitors to Scotland again soon.

Here’s a wee film for you to enjoy in the meantime – please share the hashtag #RespectProtectEnjoy and this great film far and wide – help us to keep Scotland beautiful 😍
For more information about how you can enjoy Scotland responsibly see here.
In the meantime #Stayhome #Staysafe

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VisitScotland Launches Responsible Tourism Campaign

VisitScotland has today (22 March) announced a responsible tourism campaign to raise awareness of the importance of exploring the outdoors responsibly with the focus on asking people to leave no trace of their visit and protect Scotland’s stunning countryside.

The £124,000 campaign, which looks to counteract some of the issues seen as a result of a new, home grown audience of visitors discovering and enjoying Scotland’s countryside will call on people to respect, protect and enjoy Scotland.

It includes a responsible tourism film and script which will be broadcast across radio, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram alongside billboard and outdoor digital screen advertising in all of Scotland’s main cities. This work will be supported by a dedicated responsible tourism page on, dedicated itineraries created for travel trade and information and advice for the tourism sector on the corporate website.

With more people enjoying the outdoors as the weather improves and the plan for lockdown restrictions to be lifted towards the end of April, VisitScotland’s campaign will reinforce the importance that as visitors, we should be aware of the consequences of our visits on our stunning landscapes, wildlife and communities.


The activity, which supports the visitor management strategy announced by Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing on Friday, will ask visitors to protect our countryside, respect the local communities, wildlife and landscapes but still enjoy the beautiful natural resources we have across the country.


Vicki Miller, Director of Marketing & Digital at VisitScotland said:


“This campaign is hugely important particularly at this time, as we are all enjoying outdoors more due to restrictions to other sections of the tourism industry. It is imperative that we realise the impact of our visits on these areas and our individual and collective responsibility to care for Scotland.

“We want to protect the stunning landscapes and wildlife that Scotland is famous for and the local communities that are such an important part of our culture. We are asking everyone to help keep Scotland special by ensuring we protect our natural resources by being responsible and respectful when out and about.

“We have a unique opportunity to positively engage audiences to enjoy the outdoors responsibly and come together to develop a Scotland-wide strategic and coordinated approach to help protect what’s there for future visitors and aid the recovery of our rural economy.”


The national tourism organisation’s campaign is part of the Visitor Management Strategy and Steering Group, led by the Scottish Government and VisitScotland and includes three workstream groups with focuses on Education and Marketing, Investment and Infrastructure, and Prevention, Regulation & Reassurance.


The Education and Marketing Group is led by VisitScotland along with partner organisations Cairngorms Business Partnership, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry & Land Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, Lochaber Chamber, National Park Authorities, NatureScot, Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), Wild Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland; all working together to target people across Scotland with the aim of influencing them to enjoy our outdoor spaces more and in a respectful way.


Some of the issues the groups have been addressing since last year include:

  • Littering – dropping and leaving litter, leaving camping equipment, broken glass
  • Environmental damage and fire hazards – damaging fences and signage; lighting fires in unauthorised locations or in unsafe ways, felling trees, damaging surrounding wildlife and risking spread of wildfires
  • Unsafe waste disposal – people not using designated toilets or appropriate facilities and leaving waste outdoors
  • Poor preparation – a lack of understanding of rapid weather change and challenging terrains, sometimes resulting in visitors getting into trouble or requiring assistance
  • Traffic and inappropriate parking – increased demand on hot spots, parking in passing places or areas that are not safe or block access to land managers or residents


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Some helpful guidance and indicative dates relating to the latest Government update on the 16th March – especially in relation to adventure tourism activities

Updated Government Strategic Famework 

COVID-19 Guidance for Wildlife Adventure and Activity Operators 


Travel into and out of Scotland

Currently non-essential travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK and the wider Common Travel Area (CTA) (i.e. the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) is prohibited as a measure to reduce the risk of importation of the virus.

Indicative Dates

12th March

  • Organised Outdoor Sport/ Activities  for groups of adults of up to 15 including the coach/ guide was able to resume from Friday 12th March.
  • For clarity ‘Organised’ sporting or physical activity refers to:  activities where the number of participants is larger than allowed under normal household rules and which are undertaken in a structured and managed way following the specific rules and guidance of the relevant National Governing Body, local authority or businesses who have in turn fully applied related sportscotland and Scottish Government Guidance. Relevant NGB guidance can be found within the Wild Scotland COVID-19 Guidance
  • All organised activity should be overseen by a COVID Officer whose role is to ensure appropriate management processes are in place so that they can effectively oversee and maintain the measured outline. The COVID Officer will also need to take the eLearning.
  • In effect this sportscotland guidance suspends physical distancing and household guidelines, for the duration of the activity. Some activities will require participants to be closer than 2 metres and contact between maybe at times necessary. Mitigating actions will need to be in place ensure the safety of the participant.

2nd April

  • The stay-at-home message will change to stay local.
  • As far as we know at the moment the rules for ‘Organised outdoor activity will remain the same as we stay in level 4.  Therefore, the activity must only take place within the authority area that the participants are from. However, the coach/ guide can travel out of the authority area.
  • Informal activity is slightly different in that you can travel 5 miles out of your local authority area – starting and ending from the same place.
  • For non-organised, informal activity up to 4 adults from 2 homes are allowed to gather for recreation and exercise

5th April

  • 6 people from 2 households will be able to meet for recreation and exercise
  • More retailers/ click and collect to open

 26th April

  • Travel within mainland Scotland allowed.
  • Tourist accommodation can open with restrictions in place. Note: if not before this may allow camping overnights to be undertaken, albeit with appropriate covid safety measures in place e.g. single person occupancy.
  • Hope for travel with rest of UK to resume but nothing has been confirmed.

17 May: What next?

On 17 May, it is hoped that groups of four people from two households would be able to socialise indoors in a private home, and that cinemas, amusement arcades and small scale outdoor and indoor events could restart with limits on capacity. Further easing on this date would include outdoor contact sport for adults and indoor group exercise. Further clarity is required as to what this might mean for outdoor activities and marine operators.

The First Minister also indicated that in early June it is hoped that Scotland could move to Level 1 and by end of June to level 0.

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Supporting Rural Tourism

Preparing for increased visitor numbers this summer.

More seasonal rangers, temporary toilets, car parking and campervan facilities will help rural areas to welcome back visitors when coronavirus restrictions are eased.

The work – supported by £2.75 million to be administered through the NatureScot Better Places Fund – comes after countryside hotspots saw a marked increase in tourists last year, resulting in issues such as a lack of services, littering and antisocial behaviour.

A multiagency Visitor Management Steering Group has published a list of actions to ensure rural communities are prepared, including:

  • investment in infrastructure and facilities, including doubling the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund to £6.2 million
  • engagement with Police Scotland who will work closely with communities and 14 Partnerships Against Rural Crime Groups to help manage challenging behaviour
  • a review of existing guidance where needed, in particular on managing camping with tents and starting fires
  • a VisitScotland led marketing campaign to raise awareness of how to explore the countryside responsibly

Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing said:

“Whilst for now the ‘stay at home’ message remains, we can all look forward to enjoying Scotland’s unmatched tourism offering when the sector restarts. As people flock back to our beautiful rural areas, we want to make sure these communities are ready to welcome back increased visitor numbers, especially as international travel may not be possible for some time yet.

“The collaboration between the Scottish Government and partners on the Visitor Management Group has been exceptional and I am confident we have a robust set of plans to prepare for a successful Scottish summer season. We’ve published a list of actions we will take to mitigate some of the challenges from last summer and this one off funding will complement local authorities’ visitor management plans and provide some additional short term support for the 2021 season.

“We’ve long supported rural tourism through the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund and I’m pleased to announce that the fourth round of funding will open imminently for applications so rural communities can continue to reap the benefits of a thriving tourism industry.”

Francesca Osowska, NatureScot Chief Executive, said:

“NatureScot is committed to helping everyone to be able to enjoy Scotland’s outdoors. This new £2.75 million will allow us to further invest – through Round Two of our Better Places Green Recovery Fund – in visitor infrastructure, and the skills needed to build and maintain improvements so that we can all access and enjoy nature easily and safely.

“Investing in nature, including in visitor management, is a key part of a green recovery: providing jobs; addressing nature loss; and tackling climate change. Round 2 of our Better Places Fund will support Local Authorities, as well as community groups, charities and NGOs, to make further improvements to visitor management during the 2021 season and I encourage you to submit your applications for this crucial work as soon as possible.”


Local authorities and community organisations can apply for grants of up to £75,000 per site, which will be administered through NatureScot’s Better Places Fund Round 2

The work of the Visitor Management Group has been led by VisitScotland in close collaboration with NatureScot, Police Scotland, National Park Authorities, Forestry and Land Scotland, local authorities, Transport Scotland and others.

The group focused on three areas including Education and Marketing, Investment and Infrastructure, and Prevention, Regulation & Reassurance.

The budget allocation for the National Parks has been increased by £4.6 million in 2021-2022, including £1m to help with visitor management. A further £750,000 has been granted to NatureScot for visitor management at the National Nature Reserves.

Read the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

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First Minister confirms ‘indicative timeline’ announcement on economy reopening for 16th March

On Tuesday 9th March 2021, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that from this Friday, restrictions on meeting up outdoors for social and recreational purposes would be eased and also added; “We hope to be in a position to relax – at least to some extent – travel restrictions within Scotland in the weeks ahead…

We are also proposing some changes to the rules on outdoor exercise and activities.
From Friday, outdoor non-contact sports and organised group exercise will be permitted for all adults, in groups of up to 15 people.

In her statement to the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon also said “I expect that further, more substantial changes will be possible in the weeks ahead, and I will set out as much detail as I can about that in Parliament next week. If the data allows us to relax more restrictions more quickly than we have previously indicated, we will not hesitate to do so”

The First Minister confirmed that a more indicative timeline for the reopening of the economy would be given on Tuesday 16th March. This is to include shops, hospitality, hairdressers, gyms and parts of the tourism sector

  • From Friday 12th up to four adults from 2 households can meet outside for both socialising and exercise, this includes meeting in private gardens.
  • For 12-17 year olds up to four people can meet (no household limit)
  • From Friday 12th March, outdoor non-contact sports and organised group exercise will be permitted for all adults, in groups of up to 15 people.
  • From 26th March communal worship will resume for groups of up to 50 where 2m physical distancing can be maintained.
See full update here

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Common dolphins © Peter GH Evans/Sea Watch Foundation.

Ground-breaking citizen science results with Sea Watch Foundation’s National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2020

The 2020 National Whale and Dolphin Watch (NWDW) event organised by the Sea Watch Foundation involved hundreds of volunteers from all around the British Isles, and it ran between 25th July and 2nd August.

The event enables Sea Watch, a charity which has been running for over 30 years, to take direct action to protect species. Sea Watch’s sighting data of bottlenose dolphins helped lead to two areas in Cardigan Bay being recommended as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for the species. Since 2001, the organisation has monitored the semi-resident bottlenose dolphin population in Cardigan Bay, providing data for the Welsh & UK Governments through Natural Resources Wales.

Who was involved?

Over 750 volunteer observers from all over the UK joined last year’s event reporting casual sightings and conducted dedicated watches from land and from the sea. The 2020 NWDW event marks also the great collaborations with twenty-nine different conservation and recording organisations including ORCA, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT), Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, MARINELife, and Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch, who have contributed data collected from boats (inshore and offshore) and from land stations in different parts of the British Isles.

Very special thanks go to Rip Curl, Made of Sundays, and Williams Art who sponsored the 2020 event by donating free gifts for the participants.

What was sighted?

1,348 sightings of cetaceans totalling 9,784 individual animals were reported. This number of sightings is lower than the estimates recorded in the last four years but circumstances in 2020 clearly differed markedly from any other year when the event was run. Nine different cetacean species and four non-cetacean species were recorded during NWDW 2020 around the UK, a number previously recorded in 2006 and 2009. The lowest amount of species (eight in total) was recorded in 2007, and the highest (13 species) in 2015.

England recorded the highest number of sightings (n=643, 48% of all records), closely followed by Scotland with 510 sightings (38% of records), then Wales with 194 sightings (14% of records). One sighting was also recorded in Northern Ireland (0.1%).

In England, Cornwall (n=187), South Devon (n=137), and North-east England (n=113) were the top three regions with the highest number of sightings. In Scotland, the regions with the highest number of sightings were North-west Scotland (n=138), Inner Hebrides (n=104), North-east Scotland (n=92), and Shetland (n=71). In Wales, the highest number of sightings was collected on the north coast including Anglesey (n=139).

“Humpback whales off Grishipoll in the Inner Hebrides, Risso‟s dolphin groups off the Outer Hebrides, Shetland, Orkney and NE Scotland, killer whale pods off Shetland and around Caithness, common dolphins and large pods of Atlantic white-sided dolphins around Shetland were particularly notable sightings”, reports Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sightings Officer and lead organiser of the NWDW event for Sea Watch Foundation.

What effort was necessary to make this project happen?

For the past 18 years, the work of Sea Watch has been spearheaded through an annual national recording event, the National Whale and Dolphin Watch, which marks the long-lasting collaboration between citizen scientists, wildlife enthusiasts, the general public, and researchers alike.

During the 2020 NWDW, volunteer observers all across the UK spent a total of 1,739 hours collecting effort-related data (including information on environmental conditions collected at regular intervals throughout each watch) stationed at 185 land watch sites and on 50 vessels around the British Isles. An additional 25 observers reported casual sightings both from land and at sea.

Why is it so important that our local communities get involved as citizen scientists and join National Whale and Dolphin Watch?

The aim of the survey has been to obtain a snapshot picture of the status and distribution of some of the species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) recorded in UK waters through systematic watches from both land and sea, as well as casual watches, whilst also raising public awareness of the wealth of marine mammals we have around our coasts.

It is my job to piece together all the records of cetaceans you send us including number of species and where and when they occur which can increase our knowledge of cetacean distribution, habitat use, anthropogenic pressures, and long-term population trends, allowing us to better conserve and protect them in our waters” says Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sightings Officer and lead organiser of the NWDW event for the Sea Watch Foundation.

What is next for Sea Watch and National Whale and Dolphin Watch?

Sea Watch Foundation are seeking volunteers to take part in National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2021 this summer, which takes place 24th July – 1st August.  They will also be producing a research paper related to this event spanning the decades of survey effort on cetaceans assembled in order to help provide better informed cetacean conservation measures in UK waters.

“The collation of information on abundance and distribution of whales, dolphins and porpoises is valuable in many ways. Besides increasing our general knowledge of the cetacean fauna that inhabit the seas around the British Isles, it can inform us of important areas and times of year for particular species, enabling better decision making on the risk of harm to local populations from certain human activities. It may also indicate where dedicated research should be directed, or draw attention to possible status changes on both a regional and national basis” says Dr Peter Evans, Director of the Sea Watch Foundation.

If you want to download a copy of the full 2018 National Whale and Dolphin Watch report:

Visit for details, or contact


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