Terrified seals were sent stampeding into the water after “reckless” visitors trespassed on their off-limits north-east colony.
Footage sent to the Ythan Seal Watch group shows people approaching the mammals on Sunday afternoon.
The seal haul-out at the mouth of the Ythan Estuary has enjoyed special protection under the Marine Scotland Act 2010 since 2017, making it a criminal offence to disturb them.
Ythan Seal Watch has repeatedly appealed to for proper signage to be instated on the nature reserve to advise people against disturbing the seals and the dangers associated with approaching one of the mammals.
It added in a statement online: “These are activities that can constitute intentional or reckless harassment on a designated seal haul-out.
“Not only are there legal concerns with the actions of the visitors on the reserve we also have serious safety concerns with visitors on a remote sandbar approaching and disturbing this many seals in this location.
“We have repeatedly raised all of our concerns to Nature Scot and the Scottish Government over the last three years regarding safety, the lack of information and advice should a visitor or pet end up bitten or injured on the haul-out and the fact that after three years the unmonitored and unsupervised visitors continue to illegally harass the seals be we have been repeatedly ignored.
“The visitor management, access and signage on the reserve is the responsibility of Nature Scot’s operations manager and we have no say in it.
“It is unacceptable that after three years of the site being designated that visitors are still facilitated to do this by Nature Scot and there is no monitoring or compliance from Marine Scotland to protect the seals from the continuing harassment by visitors on the reserve.”
The group is also asking for the public to help identify the visitors in the footage and to contact police on 101 with Sunday’s date as a reference.
NatureScot is the public body responsible for managing the Forvie National Nature Reserve, which includes the Ythan Estuary.
Gavin Clark, Tayside & Grampian operations manager for NatureScot, said: “We want to welcome visitors to Forvie, and we help them enjoy the nature reserve and the wildlife that is protected here, with information on social media, and signs to guide people.
“Unfortunately, even with reserve staff available on site to advise on responsible behaviour, there are incidents where people ignore signs and staff and disturb seals.
“Any incidents of harassment at a designated seal haul out could be a wildlife crime and should be reported to the police.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Ythan is an important location for grey seals, which is why we designated it as a seal haul-out site in 2017 to provide additional protection from intentional or reckless harassment.
“The harassment of seals at this site is an offence, and we would encourage anyone witnessing this to contact Police Scotland.
“The Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code provides advice on how to minimise disturbance to marine wildlife, including seals, when enjoying the Scottish coast.
“We would encouraging anyone watching or encountering marine wildlife to follow its advice at all times.”
More information on the seals’ legal protection below.
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