HWDT welcomes UK porpoise protection


A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for the harbour porpoise in UK waters has been designated in the Hebrides - giving increased protection to the UKs smallest cetacean. The Hebrides has been highlighted as a really important area for porpoises, this is reflected in the size of the site – the largest for this species in Europe. 

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) was intrinsically involved in the designation process; providing the data collected from aboard our research yacht Silurian to aid the process and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of porpoise abundance and distribution within the Hebrides.

Alison Lomax, HWDT Director, comments, “Our dedicated survey work, carried out every year over the last decade, has demonstrated that the Hebrides as a whole is an exceptionally important area for harbour porpoises. We are delighted that this has been recognised by the Scottish Government and that Scotland’s first Special Area of Conservation (SAC) has been created in the Inner Hebrides and Minches. A well-managed SAC in the west of Scotland has a key role to play in harbour porpoise conservation.”

The designation of the Harbour Porpoise SAC will fulfil the Scottish Governments commitment to the European Habitats Directive to deliver conservation areas for specific species that need increased protection. 

The site – termed the Inner Hebrides and Minches SAC – covers an area of 13,801.99 km² and is located in the heart of HWDTs study area. 

Dr Lauren Hartney-Mills, adds, “It is fantastic news that the importance of the Hebrides for harbour porpoise has been recognised by having the largest SAC in Europe designated here.”

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) ran a consultation period for the designation between March and May 2016, with HWDT encouraging participation from its supporters and followers. The next stage of the process will be to develop a species conservation strategy, engaging with stakeholders to develop appropriate management recommendations. 

HWDT has undertaken dedicated research into harbour porpoise in the Hebrides, highlighting habitat preference.  HWDT has also contributed our data to the study of the impacts of Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs) – widely used by the aquaculture industry – on the species. 

HWDT welcome paying volunteers aboard every field season to join their dedicated surveys on Silurian, providing the opportunity for people to contribute to the research by assisting with fundamental data collection. 

Morven Russell, Volunteer Coordinator, says, “Without the contribution of our volunteers, we simply couldn’t maintain our long-established dataset. Thank you to all who have joined us aboard and contributed to the designation of the Inner Hebrides and Minches SAC.”

To find out more about joining HWDT aboard in the 2017 field season, please click here.