Members of the public are being urged to stop using drones to photograph thousands of seals at a north-east nature reserve.
An estimated 3,000 grey seals have taken over the north beach on the Ythan Estuary at the Forvie National Reserve, near Newburgh.
But wardens have recently reported an increase of private drone users disturbing the wildlife in order to get a closer look.
The seals can easily be seen lounging around or ‘hauling-out’ on Forvie sands and have been a magnet for walkers wishing to photograph them.
But the animals can also easily be seen from the south side of the Ythan estuary at Newburgh and this is where walkers are being urged to go instead.
Some visitors are still taking to the northern Forvie sands side in order to get a better look, despite signage at the car park there.
And last night councillor Isobel Davidson said new signs were being prepared to try to drive spectators further away from the animals.
She said: “The Forvie signage already re-directs people away from the seals, but we felt we needed to do more than that.
“We are getting a brown tourism sign that will show the seal viewing point and will be placed near the Newburgh Inn. The views from over there are really very good.”
The British Divers Marine Life Rescue medic and Ythan seal watch founder, Lee Watson, has noticed several drones in the area recently and said: “I think a lot of people have been out enjoying the mild weather and maybe got them as Christmas presents, but they really do disturb the seals and all the birds.”
Mr Watson volunteers his time to educate the people that come down as to why they shouldn’t disturb the seals, he said: “On the whole people will listen, but we get mixed reactions.
“Some of the drones have almost come into contact with the birds that live here too.”
Large and aggressive bull seals have been hauling-out causing some significant injuries to other seals at the site. Mr Watson is concerned that they may attack people who get too close.
Marine Scotland held a public consultation into declaring the area a designated seal haul-out zone in 2015 and found that there were grounds for considering the application ahead of the five-year review due in 2019.