Unacceptable and avoidable danger posed by harassing wildlife
ON A Saturday in July, a sad and avoidable incident of wildlife harassment on the north coast of Cornwall resulted in the tragic death of a young bottlenose dolphin.
Not only is this a disaster for the conservation of this rare and special animal, but the death of the dolphin highlights a serious issue facing our marine environment – wildlife disturbance.
Once again this summer, Cornwall Wildlife Trust has had several reports of wildlife being harassed and followed by boats and other sea users around Cornwall's coastline in addition to the disastrous death of the rare dolphin.
We are lucky enough to get 17 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, the internationally rare and magnificent basking shark, plus resident and visiting seals around the South West. The last thing we want to do is drive these animals away from our coast and their feeding and breeding grounds.
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In particular, we have had kayakers disturbing seals at numerous locations on the north coast in the St Ives Bay area. Seals are particularly vulnerable to disturbance as they need to come out on land regularly to rest and digest their food. In the summer months, pregnant females carry their unborn pups in their bellies, so a quick dash over rocks to the sea can lead to fatal injuries for both mother and pup.
Sadly there is no legal protection covering the disturbance of seals, therefore the Cornwall Seal Group have developed excellent guidance for sea users on carrying out their sport or leisure pursuit in a 'seal-friendly' manner; it is available from the downloads section of the website www.cornwallsealgroup.co.uk
For other marine animals, however, it is a different story. The law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) states that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly harass any dolphin, porpoise, whale or basking shark. A conviction carries the maximum sentence of £5,000 fine and/or six months' imprisonment.
It is therefore important that all people using any vessel on the sea familiarise themselves with the marine codes of conduct that exist and adhere to it to make sure we can still enjoy watching these beautiful animals while protecting them at the same time. Cornwall's leading environmental organisations and outdoor leisure providers have joined forces to create a much-needed Coastal Code of Conduct to help guide the public towards a safer future for our marine and coastal wildlife. Together they have set up the Marine Disturbance 24-hour hotline on 0845 2012626, and the Coastal Code of Conduct web pages available at www.cornwallwildlifetrust.or g.uk/coastal_code with information on how to enjoy the coast and protect the wildlife at the same time. Boat-owners can also become accredited through the WiSe (Wildlife Safe) scheme, which provides training and accreditation for operators of registered passenger and charter vessels who wish to view marine wildlife.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust is urging all people who use the sea to ensure they are aware of what wildlife exists around our coast and think about how their behaviour could have an impact on it. If you are visiting our coastline and want to learn more about the wildlife that exists there and how to act safely around it, then please check out our website.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust is a key member of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership which looks after Cornwall's precious protected landscapes. More than 150 articles from this environment series are now available on the new Cornwall AONB website at www.cornwallaonb.org.uk