Published: 09/11/2017 11:08 - Updated: 09/11/2017 11:15

Furore over seal management course

 

The college course will give instruction on how to manage seals.
The college course will give instruction on how to manage seals.
 

 

A Far North college has defended offering a course in shooting seals.

Students pay £508 for the combined theory and practical qualification in managing mammal numbers.

But animal welfare groups have condemned North Highland College in Thurso, Caithness, for offering the "shocking and barbaric" courses.

John Robins, of the Save Our Seals Fund, said: "It’s shocking and barbaric that a university should be offering this course. A university should be a place of advancement and education, not somewhere to train people to slaughter our native wildlife.

"Why not teach people how to farm salmon without shooting seals instead?

"Thanks to the Scottish Government, shooting seals is now a career option.

"If the university wants to be a serious place of education they should be teaching people how to protect fish farms without the use of guns.

"If fish farms are still shooting seals in four years time they will not be allowed to export their product to the USA under its wildlife protection legislation that will come into force then.

"They should instead be teaching students how to use predator exclusion nets rather than shooting innocent mammals. It will make the students eligible for long term, well-paid jobs instead of short term slaughters."

Andrew Ottaway, from the Seal Protection Action Group, said: "I’m staggered this is being advertised. I thought it was a practical joke.

"It’s pretty horrifying and will disgust people that the college will profit from giving advice on this.

"It’s no advert for Scotland. There will be a public outcry."

The college — part of the University of Highlands & Islands — claims its Seal Management PDA will "prepare candid¬ates to apply for a licence to shoot seals/undertake seal management".

More than 1,500 seals were shot from 2011 to 2015 in a Holyrood drive to salvage fish stocks.

But the figures reveal that in 2016, just 99 seals were reported shot compared to 160 killed the previous year.

This figure, represents a drop of some 80% compared to the 459 seals shot in 2011 and with a three year coastal netting ban in place, introduced in April last year, this number is set to fall still further in 2017.

A college spokesman said a "small number" of students have taken the course, which costs £380 without the firearms test.

"North Highland College UHI offers a range of qualifications which are designed to provide Scotland’s land and sea based industries with staff trained in the sustainable management of Scotland’s natural resources.

"A small number of candidates have completed the Professional Development Award in Seal Management since it was introduced.

"This award was developed at the request of the Scottish Government to provide a national qualification in accordance with the requirements of the Marine (Scotland) Act, 2010.

"The provisions in the Act are designed to increase protection for seals and improve the quality of seal management practices in Scotland. The primary aim of this qualification is to provide knowledge and skills in specified areas which will prepare candidates to apply for a licence to undertake seal management under the provisions of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010."

North Highland College UHI introduced its award in seal management in 2011, before developing it at the request of the Scottish government.

The college said the aim of the award was to improve management practices, and to better protect seals.

In Scotland, it is illegal to kill or injure a seal except under licence or for welfare reasons.

Licences to shoot seals have been granted for health and welfare reasons, or where the animals have been found to be causing serious damage to fish farms.

Thurso-based North Highland College UHI, which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, offers a practical shooting test as part of its Seal Management Professional Development Award.

Students qualified in deer stalking can opt to do the course without having to complete the shooting test.

This year, 18 common and 40 grey seals have been shot.

Scotland has an estimated 120,000 grey seals and at least 25,400 common seals, according to Scottish government figures.

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