A record number of seal pups have been counted at a Scottish nature reserve.
National Trust for Scotland (NTS) rangers recorded 1806 pups at St Abb’s Head in the Borders during the annual breeding season.
NTS said it showed an “extraordinary explosion” in the seal population, highlighting that there had been no colony at all back in 2007.
Grey seals breed on the nature reserve from October to December.
Head ranger Ciaran Hatsell said one reason for the rise could be linked to “lack of disturbance” in the area. The seals may also have come from another North Sea colony that has reached capacity, with the conservation charity team keen to carry out further studies into the causes.
Mr Hatsell said the growth was an “incredible story”.
He added: “I have worked in wildlife for some time and have been studying seal colonies for the past ten years and I’m amazed by how this population has risen.
“Grey seals are one of the rarest seals in the world. There’s a global population of roughly 300,000 and in the UK we have around 45% of that.
“To have this rise here is very special and I feel very privileged to be able to count and work with these animals.
“If you go back to 2007, there was no colony here at all and the population is still growing, which shows that the ecosystem is healthy and that they have plenty of food in the area.”
Two counts are carried out in the peak of pupping season in mid to late November using binoculars or high-resolution images of bigger colonies.
NTS staff have carried out surveys this way since 2015 and report a “steady year-on-year rise”.
Mr Hatsell said: “The work we do here is vital to our understanding of population dynamics and of the wider the natural world. If we know what is here, then we can make plans to protect it.
“These animals are biological indicators of the health of our wider marine ecosystem, they are the apex predator. If they are doing well, it is a positive sign.
“And don’t we all need a bit of positivity at the moment.”
Some of the beaches at St Abb’s Head are sheltered by surrounding cliffs and are largely inaccessible to the general public, providing a safe haven for seals and their pups.
Electric fences have been put up in other areas to ensure they are not disturbed and visitors are urged only to view them at a distance.
Mr Hatsell said: “In the past there have been incidents, horror stories of people picking up seals and bringing them back because they thought they were in trouble.
“We have had people putting their kids on the backs of seals for selfies, really bad stuff.
“I am on site every day and I hope that my presence can make an impact and a difference, in terms of educating people and protecting seals in the most vulnerable spots.
“We do ask that people don’t disturb the seals during breeding season, it really can be the difference between life and death.
“If females are inexperienced and are frightened by someone or something on the beach, this can cause them to flee and abandon their pups, who will then starve to death.
“Seals react strongly to the presence of dogs in particular, so when visiting, please keep dogs under close control at all times.”
If you find a seal pup alone on a beach and are worried, call the British Divers Marine Life Rescue on 01825 765 546 or phone the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.
Do not approach the animal, give it space and encourage others to do so too.
For more information on St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve, click here.