PEOPLE found guilty of harassing seals at one of nearly 200 sites around ­Scotland could face six months in prison or a fine of up to £5,000.

Under new legislation which will come into force at the end of September, special protection is to be afforded to seals at 194 protected sites making it an offence to "intentionally or recklessly harass seals" within the designated areas.

It applies to anyone whether a jet skier, pleasure boater, fish farmer, salmon netter, walker or even a wildlife cruise operator who gets too close. Bans on shooting seals without a licence are already in place.

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The move has been welcomed by environmental groups although some thought the Scottish Government could have gone further. The protection sites selected are in isolated locations around Scotland's coastline, from the Berwickshire to Sanda Island off the Mull of Kintyre where seals come ashore to rest, breed or moult.

Isolated and uninhabited islands account for 107 with a further 70 on similar stretches of coastline - only 17 of which are close to some form of human habitation and are often at the foot of cliffs or on offshore rocks or sandbanks and hence still relatively isolated.

Some are used by common (harbour) seals some by grey seals, and others by both species.