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21 September, 2016

Seals take the stage on the Isle of May

Grey seals will be in the spotlight on the Isle of May over the weekend of 1 and 2 of October, with a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) event to give people the chance to see seals basking on the rocks and learn more about their secret lives.

There will be telescopes set up, with staff from the Sea Mammal Research Unit based at St Andrews on hand to answer questions about the studies carried out on seals on the Isle of May. Visitors will hopefully be able to view the first pups of the season, and there will be some craft activities for children.

David Steel, SNH reserve manager, said, "Visitors are usually drawn to the May to see the puffins, razorbills and all the other seabirds but at this time of the year, it’s the seals which take centre stage. They’re such curious and fascinating creatures – it’s certainly worth the trip out to see them. We’ll also have experts on hand to tell people more about the seals and all the seal research that happens on the May.”

Up to 100 grey seals can be seen around the island at any time of year, but their numbers increase in autumn and winter when up to 4,000 seals haul themselves onto the rocky shores of the island to have their pups and mate. This makes the Isle of May the fifth largest breeding colony of grey seals in the UK and the largest on the east coast of Scotland. Around 2,000 pups are born on the May every year.

Atlantic grey seals are the third rarest seal in the world; Britain holds almost 40% of their world population, and 90% of these breed in Scotland.

The seal weekend is free, but you must take a boat trip to reach the island. Sailings are on the privately-run May Princess or Osprey of Anstruther from the Anstruther Harbour or through the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick.

Known locally as 'The May', this small island sits on the edge of the Firth of Forth. The island's importance for seabirds has drawn scientists to its shores for many years and the May is home to the oldest continuously running bird observatory in the UK. The May is also a regular haunt for grey seals, often seen lounging on the shoreline rocks. This island is a historical gem and it's been a place of pilgrimage for centuries with an early island monastery. The May was also the site of Scotland's very first lighthouse, built in 1636, while the current, castle-like lighthouse was designed by the engineer Robert Stevenson.


Media queries
- For more information, contact SNH press & public relations officer, Vicki Mowat, on 0131 316 2659 or or the main SNH press office on 01463 725 022.

Notes to editors

Isle of May National Nature Reserve is one of about 50 NNRs in Scotland. These are special places which showcase some of the best of Scotland’s nature. They provide unique opportunities to visit, enjoy and learn more about Scotland’s nature. For more information, see .

Contact information

SNH Media
Scottish Natural Heritage is the government's adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Our role is to help people understand, value and enjoy Scotland's nature now and in the future. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

Tha Dualchas Nàdair na h-Alba na buidheann comhairleachaidh dhan riaghaltas a thaobh nàdair agus seallaidhean-tìre air feadh Alba. 'S e an dleastanas a th' againn cuideachadh a thoirt do dhaoine gus tuigse, luach agus tlachd fhaighinn bho nàdar na h-Alba, an-dràsta agus san àm ri teachd. Airson tuilleadh fiosrachaidh, tadhail air  no lean sinn air Twitter aig


Grey seal on Isle of May: Free use. Please credit Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Grey seal on Isle of May

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Grey seal cow and pup: Free use. Please credit Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Grey seal cow and pup

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