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Police team up with wildlife experts to protect marine mammals and seabirds

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Police are joining forces with wildlife experts to help protect Yorkshire’s marine mammals and seabirds.

A new operation launches today to ensure dolphins, seals, birds and other animals on the coast of North Yorkshire and Humberside can go about their lives without disruption

The Yorkshire coast is important for marine mammals, including whales, dolphins and seals. Their numbers are thought to be increasing, particularly close inshore from Scarborough southwards – but they are vulnerable to disturbance from jet skis, kayaks, speedboats and other vessels.

More than 250,000 seabirds nest around Flamborough and Filey each summer. All of them are sensitive to disturbance, which could reduce their chances of having a successful breeding season.

Operation Seabird is a high-profile initiative bringing together police forces – North Yorkshire Police and Humberside Police – and local authorities – Scarborough Borough Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council – alongside the RSPCA, the RSPB, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Flamborough Head European Marine Site Management Scheme.

The operation was developed following concerns that marine wildlife in the area was increasingly being disturbed.

Operation Seabird launched on Sunday 30 August 2020, when joint patrols were conducted around Scarborough’s North Bay, to ensure that marine wildlife there was being respected. Further proactive patrols will continue along the Yorkshire coast over the coming months.

PC Adam Marshall, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “It’s a real privilege to have such diverse marine wildlife visiting and making its home on our stretch of coastline.

“That’s why it’s so important we all do our bit to protect it. By keeping disruption to an absolute minimum, we can help these animals thrive, and ensure future generations can enjoy their presence too.

“Following simple guidelines will ensure marine mammals and seabirds are kept safe and undisturbed. Operation Seabird is all about advising and educating people to behave responsibly around wildlife. We don’t want to resort to enforcement action, but won’t hesitate to do so if required.”

PC Rich Fussey, from Humberside Police, added: “The Yorkshire coastline is a fantastic landscape that’s an important feeding and breeding ground for a variety of seabirds and marine mammals.

“Unfortunately we have a number of reports each year of members of the public on the water, approaching too closely to the wildlife that live the area including the nesting seabirds and marine mammals.

“Op Seabird is a multi-agency partnership operation to educate the public about the importance of the resident wildlife and the impact that these disturbance events can cause.

“The key focus of the operation is to ensure that members of the public, who are using the waters along the Yorkshire coast, do so in a responsible way. We want to ensure they keep their distance from the wildlife to prevent intentional disturbance and to safeguard this stretch of coastline, allowing future generations to enjoy the spectacle we see today.”

RSPCA Inspector Geoff Edmond, National Wildlife Coordinator, said: “I welcome this opportunity to work alongside North Yorkshire and Humberside Police in partnership together to tackle this increasing and worrying rise in incidents.

“We are very fortunate that dolphins are now regularly visiting the coast, porpoises are seen regularly and we have a nationally important breeding seabird population in our area.

“We want to encourage everyone to enjoy seeing them, but when at sea people must maintain a safe distance and minimum low speed so they are not disturbed.

“I am encouraged by the support we have received from partner organisations to support this operation. Working alongside the police, we hope to be able to encourage compliance with the guidelines – however, further action may be taken if necessary.”

Jeremy Pickles, Chair of the Flamborough Head European Marine Site (EMS) Management Scheme, said: “For many years, we have been working with our partners and local user groups, to reduce the impact of disturbance on the UK’s largest mainland breeding seabird colony, which nest on the cliffs around Flamborough and Filey.

“We are pleased to be continuing this work with North Yorkshire Police, as well as a number of other organisations, to raise awareness of this issue and encourage everyone to enjoy our coastline responsibly, for the benefit of all marine wildlife.”

Marine mammals and seabirds have legal protection in UK legislation, specifically in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, and the Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

Officers are keen to educate and advise people in the first instance – but will be enforcing any breaches of the legislation if required.

To avoid disturbing marine mammals:

  • Travel slowly and approach from the side, rather than head-on
  • Observe them from a distance (more than 100m)
  • Always allow space for the animal to move away from you and any other vessels
  • Enjoy their company for a maximum of 15 minutes

To avoid disturbing seabirds:

  • Travel at a no-wake speed within 300m of cliffs where birds are nesting
  • Keep a safe distance from the base of the cliffs (more than 100m)
  • If any birds respond to your presence, move away quietly
  • If you see groups of birds on the sea, slow down and go around them

If you witness significant disturbance to marine wildlife, please call the police on 101 to report it.

Last modified: August 31, 2020