Sea Mammal Research Unit NC-NPG activities to fulfill NERC's statutory duties

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews

Abstract

NERC has statutory obligations under the Conservation of Seals Act (1970) and the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 to provide the UK government and devolved administrations with scientific advice on the management and conservation of its seal populations. This legislation is the means by which the UK strives to ensure its seal populations, both the grey and harbour (also known as common) seal, are not adversely affected by human activities in the marine environment. Seals have often come into conflict with humans, particularly in relation to fisheries but also increasingly with respect to other marine activities such as the development of marine renewable energy and major infrastructure projects. In conjunction with other statutory obligations, particularly the EU Habitats Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the UK government and devolved administrations must ensure these listed species enjoy a 'favourable conservation status' and understanding their population trends and the drivers of change help determine whether the UK seas are in 'good environmental status'. In order to meet these requirements, NERC tasks the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) with addressing the questions it receives about the status of the populations and the drivers of population change from UK government each year. To achieve this SMRU carries out a programme of monitoring to determine the population status and trends of both species of UK seal. In addition it conducts underpinning scientific research to understand the effect of different marine activities and developments on population growth rates and the survival and reproductive capacity of the two seal species. It also assists in finding ways to mitigate any negative impacts. UK government also needs to understand the natural factors that cause population trends to change and to determine when species may have reached the limits to their growth. In close consultation with government agencies and statutory nature conservation bodies, SMRU responds to the emerging issues relating to seal conservation and provides innovative ways to understand the movements, at-sea behaviour, population structure and impact of natural and man-made factors on their populations at a regional management level.

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