Tag Archives: Laws

My ‘seal’ of approval…

The news at the beginning of this week reporting the introduction of new laws to protect Scottish seals brought to mind an old Scottish legend told me as a child by my dear old, if not a little superstitious, grandmother.

The story went like this:

A seal hunter is woken one night by a stranger who states that his master requests the presence of the seal hunter and asks the hunter to go with him to his master’s abode. The seal hunter agrees and is taken, on the back a large black horse, many miles through the Scottish countryside to the edge of a cliff. On arrival at the cliff’s edge the seal hunter questions his escort as to where his master’s home is, at which point the stranger grabs the hunter and they both plummet downwards into the sea. The hunter wakes in a beautiful underwater kingdom, surrounded by the same animals that he has dedicated his life to killing and is approached by a large boar seal.

The boar seal leads him through the kingdom to a room where another seal lies dying with a huge knife wound to its belly. It turns out that this injured seal is the father of the large boar seal who invited the hunter to his realm, and the hunter recalls how earlier in the day, while hunting, he had stabbed a seal but not having killed it, only wounded it, the seal had managed to swim away with his knife blade still buried within it.

The hunter is told by the boar seal that he, as the one who inflicted the wound, is the only one who can save his father and requests that the hunter does so. The hunter removes the knife blade and magically the wound heals. The boar then tells the hunter that they will allow him to leave the underwater kingdom and return home only if he promises to surrender his job and vow never to harm a seal again. The hunter, feeling rather overwhelmed and more than a little homesick, agrees – worrying all the way home (on the back of that black horse again) how he will make ends meet now he cannot do what he has always done to make a living for himself. But when he returns home, before the stranger bids him farewell, he is handed a purse full of gold coins, enough to ensure that he will be comfortable for the rest of his life.

I’m sure the moral to this story is meant to be something along the lines of – if you do the right thing, and don’t harm others, you will be richly rewarded, but as a child the message I took from it was don’t hurt a seal or you might end up being taken to the bottom of the sea!

It would seem that seals now have more than just bedtime stories to discourage people from killing or harming them without good reason, as the new law makes it an offence to kill or injure a seal except under licence, with a potential penalty of a hefty fine or even 6 months in prison. Although seals can and do cause problems for the fishing industry, they are long standing residents of our seas and shores and I personally believe that more regulation of the way in which they are culled has to be a good thing – so the new law gets my seal of approval (excuse the pun, I couldn’t help myself!)

Seals in the Sound of Jura

Fortunately it still remains legal to shoot seals as much as your heart desires – as long as it’s with a camera! So, for those who fancy spending some time admiring these intriguing animals below is a list of my favourite places to spot them around Scotland:

The Moray Firth Coastline

The shores of Loch Linnhe

The Orkney Islands

The Sound of Jura

The shoreline at Fast Castle, near Coldingham

Fast Castle Seals

And just a wee bit of advice -please remember that even the cutest of seals with the biggest, most appealing eyes are still wild animals and if you do get too close and make them feel threatened they may bite in defence. Keeping a safe distance ensures seal watching is an enjoyable experience for both you and the seal!

A right to roam.

For me, one of the greatest advantages of living in Scotland is the ability to enjoy the countryside around me! Whenever I choose I am fortunate to be able step out of the front door of my cottage on to the hillside and roam across the landscape, as long as I do so responsibly. I’ll often walk to places far from the beaten track and not see another soul for hours, discovering places I never knew existed and sometimes feeling like I might be the first person in years to have explored a certain area or to have had the opportunity of appreciating an unusual land formation, hidden cave or secluded waterfall.

It’s all yours!

Somewhere in my subconscious I keep on waiting to hear a farmer cry “get off my land!”…but I’m in Scotland, so that call will never come, after all, up here we have the wonderful ‘right to roam’ and enjoy the natural riches of our beautiful landscape. This right has to be part of what makes our country so special and each one of its inhabitants so blessed. It also has to be one of the things which helps attracts so many visitors to our shores.

This blessing is not bestowed in all of Great Britain, all the land throughout the UK belongs to someone, but in England if you go on to land without the owner’s permission, you are trespassing! There are exceptions of course, for example if there is a right of access for the public, or if you personally have the right to pass over the land to reach some land of your own. But it’s not like here in Scotland where, happily, we are not bound by the same restrictions!

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 established universal access rights to most land and inland water and it is this act which ensures that no matter who you are, you can responsibly enjoy the varied, and often breathtaking, terrain of this most unspoilt of lands.

With so many activities in today’s society incurring some type of cost for those who wish to partake, the fact that Scotland offers so much potential enjoyment for free is not to be sniffed at! So roam, explore, discover and revel in our limitless fine lands with the peace of mind that the only price you will pay is that of being respectful of others right to do the same!

If you are heading out exploring in Scotland this weekend, then it’s worth having a wee look over the “Responsible Land Access Code” which gives guidelines about how you can ensure we all continue to get benefit from this rare, fantastic and liberating ‘right to roam’! http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/