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Seal protection laws raise new questions

THE SCOTTISH government is asking local people to identify sites where seals haul out so they can be given greater protection.

However the move has been criticised by conservationists who claim that new legislation to protect seals in Scotland is little more than a token gesture.

The government’s new Marine (Scotland) Act has already aroused controversy by issuing licences to fish farmers, netsmen and anglers to shoot a limited number of seals within a given area.

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Now the government has identified 146 sites around Scotland where seals haul out, which they intend to designate as specially protected. These include 31 sites in Shetland, 24 of which are used by common seals, six by greys and one which is shared by both species.

The government says that these designations will give seals even greater protection, and have asked people to identify additional sites that should be considered to join the list.

Wildlife campaigners have questioned why seals should not be fully protected wherever they haul out.

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In Shetland, Jan Bevington, of Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, said: “Where does this leave the seals who don’t haul out at those designated sites?

“I am especially concerned about the common seals whose numbers have declined hugely. They are about to start their pupping season and we don’t even have a closed season to protect them any more.

“I would urge people to tell the government about any places where they know that seals do haul out, but the big question is who is going to police or monitor any of this.”

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The consultation runs until 21 June and details can be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/03/22093944/0 . Responses to the consultation can be sent to SealHaul-out@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

Wildlife campaign group Marine Concern is attempting to coordinate responses to the consultation at www.marineconcern.com.

Mark Carter, who runs the organisation, said: “We have been repeatedly told by both government and Scottish ministers that seals will be given better protection under the new act, but Scottish seals are not that well protected at all.”

The list of sites was drawn up by Marine Scotland, Sea Mammal Research Unit, Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland Science.

Marine Scotland have also asked for people to tell them about anywhere there is a “potential risk of harassment to seals on any individual sites”, including industrial developments, leisure and tourism.

SNH principal adviser on marine ecology John Baxter said the new legislation was “a significant step forward” from the earlier Conservation of Seals Act.

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