Code of Conduct – Seabird & Seal Watching


Skomer Island logoIn a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) the disturbance of wildlife is a criminal offence, furthermore all species of bird are protected from killing or disturbance while nesting (Manx law by Tynwald).

Causes of bird disturbance

  • Proximity to the colony or nest
  • Size of group of people
  • Length of time people spend at the site
  • Level of noise and movement by people

How to know if you are disturbing birds

  • Birds fly off cliffs – move slowly away, you are already too close!
  • Agitation (head bobbing) and increased vocalisation
  • At all times watch the birds’ reaction and respect them by acting accordingly

How to avoid disturbing sea birds

  • Keep a distance of 50m from seabird nesting sites/cliffs
  • If you think you are disturbing seabirds move slowly and quietly away from the site to a safe distance
  • Do not approach rafting birds or marine mammals
  • Move on after 10 minutes watching

What is the problem?

Flushing (birds leaving their nesting or roosting sites) is the most common result of disturbance which can have a big impact:

  • Birds abandon their nests, making chicks vulnerable to predation.
  • Loss of eggs (eggs knocked off cliff – this often occurs with guillemots)
  • Increased predation of eggs and chicks while the adult bird is away and not protecting the nest
  • Eggs are not being incubated and so could delay hatching.


The Wildlife and Countryside Act prohibits interference with places used for shelter or protection, or intentionally disturbing animals occupying such places.

Causes of seal disturbance

  • Noise! Unnatural sounds, such as voices, boat engines etc.
  • Sight! Seals spook when crafts, such as kayaks and boats come too close
  • Keep a distance of 100m from hauled out and pupping seals

How to know if you are disturbing seals

  • Seals lift their heads
  • You can see the whites of a seals eyes – a stressed seal bulges its eyes revealing the white parts around the iris.
  • Seal moves towards the water – move slowly out of sight, you are already too close!
  • Seal enters the sea – any seal rushing into the sea has been compromised and disturbed.
  • At all times watch the seals’ reaction and respect them by acting accordingly

What is the problem?

  • Seals that are rushing towards the sea may stampede, scaring others around them into a domino effect.
  • Rushing seals are less careful and may gash their bellies or rip out claws on the rocks
  • Seals need to haul out at low tide to heal wounds, gain vitamins from the sun and moult.
  • Mothers can be disturbed away from their pups.

Further Info:

Pembrokeshire Marine Code of Conduct

The Problems of Marine Disturbance – Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Protecting Wildlife – Manx Wildlife Trust

The Wildlife and Countryside Act

Code of Conduct – seals (Cornwall Wildlife Trust)

Code of Conduct – seabirds Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Code of Conduct for Kayakers – Dorset Wildlife Trust