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Unscrupulous photographers disturbing Donna Nook seal colony

03/10/2010 23:10:02

Seals at Donna Nook.Photo credit Adrian and Hilary Middleton.

Photographers harassment of seals has increased pup mortality

October 2010. For much of the year grey seals at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trusts' Donna NookNational Nature Reserve are at sea or hauled out on distant sandbanks. Every November and December, the seals give birth to their pups near the sand dunes: a wildlife spectacle which attracts tens of thousands of visitors from across the UK.

The viewing area at the foot of the sand dunes reduces disturbance to the seals and ensures the safety of visitors. The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust requests that all visitors stay within the viewing area - behind the fence.

Photographers harassment of seals has increased pup mortality
For many years, keen and experienced wildlife photographers visited the small outer seal colony at weekends when the RAF was not making use of the beach as a bombing range. The seals in this colony are about a mile out across the mudflats and conditions on this exposed east coast beach can be extreme.

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust no longer condones or encourages access to these seals.

Increased pup mortality
Increased pup mortality in this part of the colony, 6 times greater than the main colony, was recorded in 2009. This is thought to be the result of disturbance caused by the increased numbers of photographers and casual visitors.

Whilst some of this disturbance is the result of atrocious behaviour by a few individuals, the sheer weight of numbers of people now going to the outer colony at weekends is also a factor. As a wildlife conservation body, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has to try and reduce activities that are causing seal pup deaths.

Code of Practice

As with photographing any wildlife subject, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust would hope that people follow the Code of Practice produced by the Nature Group of the Royal Photographic Society and in particular remember that:

  • The welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph.
  • Photography should not be undertaken if it puts the subject at risk from disturbance, physical damage, and lessened reproductive success, or if it causes the subject anxiety.

Outer colony
Uncontrolled access to the outer colony is also spoiling the enjoyment of the thousands of visitors who stay behind the fence. The Wildlife Trust knows objects to people walking about on the beach and potentially causing disturbance and stress to the seals.

The viewing area at the foot of the sand dunes was established to reduce disturbance to the seals and ensure the safety of visitors. It is possible to get good quality photographs from the viewing area. From this location the full spectacle can be witnessed from cute seal pups and interactions between mother and young to the powerful and brutal fights between the males.

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