One of Scotland’s best places to view seals has been damaged by its own popularity with visitors, but plans are now in place to help preserve it for future generations of humans and animals alike.
The population of seals at the mouth of the River Ythan near Newburgh in Aberdeenshire has long been a favourite destination for wildlife-watchers.
And since the start of the pandemic, more and more people have been trekking along the beach to enjoy one of the best spots in the country to watch the charismatic animals.
However, the constant influx of visitors has caused major issues in the area, including erosion of the vital dune systems, which provide important habitats for all manner of species.
In order to help protect the site, the Newburgh and Ythan Community Trust is working on a project to create new accessible walkways to a seal viewing area, to make sure all visitors are able to see the marine mammals without harming the environment.
The first phase of the project, to overhaul the crumbling car park to the south of the Ythan, will cost around £300,000, and the trust is seeking support with an online fundraiser to achieve their aim.
Ron MacDonald, secretary of the trust, said that with a recent £30,000 funding boost from Nature Scot, the organisation is just £30,000 away from reaching their target – and once the new, expanded parking facility is created, they will be able to move on to further phases of the plan.
He said: “The revamp of the car park is phase one, and the second phase is to build an all-abilities access path to the estuary, and to repair the existing boardwalk.
“In the longer term, we’re looking to employ a seasonal ranger to look after the area and guide people who want to know more about the natural and maritime history of the landscape and seascape here.
“But our fundraising now is very much to raise extra money to pay for the parking upgrade, and any surplus funds will go to the further phase. We’re doing it in bite-size bits, because it’s quite a big project.
“Any donations we receive from the public are greatly received.
“We hope to go out to tender over the summer of 2022, and begin construction of it in the autumn and early winter.”
Popularity since the start of the pandemic
Mr MacDonald continued: “There are lots of individual little paths that people have used, which has led to local erosion, so the idea is that with a dedicated path it will reduce that erosion.
“We’re planning in phase two to carry out some planting, and restore some of the eroded areas with vegetation.
“We want to reduce the footfall on these eroded areas, particularly the raised beach areas close to the estuary which are important for plant and insect life, where there’s been localised loss.
“There’s most definitely been more people going to the beach since the start of lockdown, the areas crowded all the time.
“It’s been so busy on some days that cars have parked all along the single-track road, and they’ve used the passing places to park their cars, which is just not good enough, so we need to address this.”
Protecting seals from disturbances
Mr MacDonald said by making the southern side of the beach more welcoming to visitors, the trust also hopes to deter people from going to the northern side of the beach where the seals rest, and getting too close to them as disturbances can cause fatal stampedes.
He added: “The idea is that you can see the seals better, and you can avoid inadvertently disturbing them at their haul-out, so it’s a win-win all round.”
To donate to the online fundraiser, click here.