A campaign to stop people behaving irresponsibly near marine animals such as seals, dolphins and nesting birds is being rolled out in Wales.
Operation Seabird is a joint campaign between the RSPCA, all four Wales police forces – North Wales Police, South Wales Police, Gwent Police and Dyfed Powys Police – and other partner organisations such as Natural Resources Wales.
The first action day is to be held tomorrow (14 April) with RSPCA officers patrolling areas in Colwyn Bay/Angel Bay and Abersoch with North Wales Police, and aims to raise awareness and educate people about how vital it is not to disturb the mammals and birds of Britain’s coastal areas and to enjoy watching them from afar.
RSPCA animal rescue officer and wildlife officer Ellie West is also taking part in the first action day with Dyfed Powys Police in Pembrokeshire.
Sadly, common disturbances to wildlife include speedboats, kayaks and paddleboards deliberately getting too close to seals, dolphins and cetaceans. This often causes stress to the animals and can result in the females suffering spontaneous abortions or babies being abandoned by their mothers.
Other issues include dogs off leads disturbing nesting birds or seals, litter including plastic rings severely injuring seals, wild camping beach barbecues and camp fires causing significant damage on the beach, and quad bikes or 4x4s vehicles riding over nesting areas. There have even been incidents where beachgoers have got too close to wild animals for the sake of a selfie. Users of boats and other watercraft can also cause severe injury to some marine mammals if they collide with them while trying to watch them.
RSPCA inspector Andy Broadbent – who will be patrolling on the first action day on 14 April – said: “We want people to enjoy watching our marine wildlife but this should be done at a safe and sensible distance without disturbing the animals.
“Every year, the RSPCA’s wildlife centres have to treat and rehabilitate a wide range of wildlife – including seals and seabirds – which have been injured or orphaned due to human disturbance.
“While last year, we may remember Wally the Walrus who visited Pembrokeshire for a long period of time. It was really concerning when we had reports of some people trying to get close to him by using jet skis or paddle and surf boards. It wasn’t in his best interest and we always urge people to act responsibly when they see any marine animal.
“If people have concerns about an animal, they should keep their distance and contact the RSPCA helpline on 0300 1234 999 (daily 7am-10pm).”
Operation Seabird is urging people visiting Britain’s coastline to:
maintain a significant distance from wildlife, both at sea and around the coast;
never get close enough to touch animals or take selfies;
read signs and stick to paths;
keep dogs on leads where instructed to do so and keep dogs under control at all times.
As the holiday season begins, high visibility patrols by the RSPCA, local police forces and wildlife groups will target coastal areas where people and animals interact, such as beaches with seal colonies, dolphins swimming offshore or sites with nesting seabirds.
Sergeant Liam Jones of the North Wales Police Rural Crime Team said: “Op Seabird Cymru seeks to engage key partners to work with the police throughout Wales to educate those people who use our coastal areas and seas and to enable them to enjoy our wildlife safely and without disturbance.
“Over the years we have seen an increase in people using our coastal areas and being unaware of the effect that they can have on coastal birds and mammals if they act irresponsibly. A disturbance can have a devastating effect on certain species and their habitats and with simple education and engagement we can help prevent it from happening.”
Dog attacks can kill seals, as well as posing a risk to the dogs themselves from bites that can become infected from the bacteria that live inside a seal’s mouth. Seal pups disturbed by curious people will move off into the sea, using valuable energy which they need to survive and grow. Birds such as little terns travel thousands of miles to breed in very specific UK coastal points.
They have one annual chance to nest and produce young, but if disturbed this opportunity is lost, and due to their ground nesting habit they are particularly vulnerable to dogs, and careless feet.
Andy added: “While our beautiful beach and coastal areas are great to have fun in, they are natural habitats and breeding grounds for many native and migratory animals, including several species on the endangered list. We humans share this space, and we can easily and unwittingly cause disturbance, fear, and distress.
“For many tourists it can be surprising and exciting to see marine mammals, including seals and their pups which will normally rest on the beach at various times of year, as well as ground nesting birds which are usually resident between March to September. But as tempting as it is to approach them, we would respectfully ask that everyone stays at a distance and keeps their dogs on leads and under control.
“Our message is to ‘Observe, Don’t Disturb’ as people visit Britain’s wonderful coastline.”
Operation Seabird was first launched in England in 2020 by North Yorkshire and Humberside Police along with the RSPCA, Yorkshire Marine Nature Partnership and Flamborough Project, RNLI and wildlife trusts. A national rollout in England in 2021 was then supported by the government’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO).
Anyone who has witnessed a significant disturbance of wildlife and their habitats should contact the Police on 101.
For concerns about the welfare of an animal, please contact the RSPCA’s helpline on 0300 1234 999.
To help the RSPCA continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals in desperate need of care please visit our website or call our donation line on 0300 123 8181.
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