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Man caught using a drone just feet above haul-out zone at Forvie

Police are investigating claims of wildlife harassment at a north-east nature reserve.

A man was captured on camera using an aerial drone to film the colony of 1,000 grey seals who reside on the Ythan estuary at Forvie, whilst others walked on the beach next to the animals.

Since May 2017, the site has been designated a protected haul-out zone for the sea mammal and it is an offence to harass the seals – but to date no one has been charged with harassment.

A local conservationist group has again repeated calls for the seals to be better protected after incidents last year led to stampedes – and wants a better fence to be installed to warn off would-be harassers.

Ythan Seal Watch, which monitors the site, has called on the government agency Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to step up pressure on people breaking the rules, who, if caught could face six months in prison or a £5,000 fine.

Group spokesman, Lee Watson, volunteers his free time to monitor the estuary and has catalogued scores of videos of visitors ignoring signs and fences and entering the seal’s protected area on the north side of the estuary.

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This weekend he spotted a man on camera who was operating a camera drone just “a few feet” above the seals.

Mr Watson said: “I would like a clearly defined fence to be erected on the edge of the designated site to make it absolutely clear people should not be there – that way they cannot claim ignorance.

“But no-one seems to want to build it.

“By the time a person gets to the seals – they have walked past at least two or three warning signs – but they clearly are not working.”

In a statement released last month, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) reminded people not to get too close to the sea mammals and directed people to the Newburgh beach to view them from a safe distance.

Annabel Drysdale, SNH’s Forvie nature reserve manager, said:  “From there, you can enjoy the best views and won’t risk disturbing them while they haul out.

“We all love to watch wildlife, but we also need to protect it. If you come across seals on the beach, stay at least 150 metres away and if one or two heads come up, that means you’re close enough.”

Gordon MP Colin Clark regularly walks at Newburgh with his family and yesterday said: “I’m disappointed to hear that people have been disturbing the seals with drones.”

A police spokeswoman said that an incident had been lodged this weekend and that inquiries were ongoing.


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