Flapper skate

Scotland’s coastal waters provide incredible habitat for some extraordinary species. Understanding the health of these species and how this may affect their conservation is challenging, especially for animals that spend most of their time on the ocean floor at depths of 100m–200m. It takes a special set of vet skills, which is exactly what we have at RZSS.

The flapper skate (Dipturus intermedius) is the largest species of skate in Europe. Females can grow up to two meters wide, 2.5 meters long and weigh just over 100kg. They are Critically Endangered globally and have their stronghold population in Scotland’s waters. Skate belong to the shark family, and their flattened bodies are evolved for scouring the seabed for food.

Flapper skate and their eggs are vulnerable to fishing gear like trawls or dredges. Their slow growth and reproduction mean populations recover slowly. Although there is a Marine Protected Area in Loch Sunart and the Sound of Jura specifically to protect skate, they remain at risk globally. One of the biggest issues for conserving them is our lack of knowledge about the species.  

Our vet team at RZSS has been playing a role in flapper skate monitoring for several years. Currently, they are focussing on a health screening programme for this species to help us understand any health challenges that might be facing the population now, and in the future.  

Working in tandem with NatureScot and fishing charters in MPA, our team are collecting skin swabs, looking for parasites and even performing ultrasounds to check body condition and reproductive status. All of this valuable data will help us understand how healthy our remaining skate are, and what we can do to ensure their future in Scotland’s seas and beyond. 

Our Partners

Project type

Conservation medicine icon

Conservation medicine

The team

Dr Georgina Cole

Veterinary surgeon

Helen Taylor releasing dark bordered beauty moths

IMAGE: Jess Wise 2023

Dr Helen Taylor

Conservation programme manager

Prof Simon Girling

Head of veterinary services

Helen Senn 2024

Dr Helen Senn

Head of conservation and science programmes

Project updates

Date: April 2024

Our lead vet on the flapper skate project, Dr Georgina Cole, has had some fantastic success with grants and funding recently, winning funds from the Fisheries Society of the British Isles, the British Wildlife Health Association, and NatureScot in the past few months. This funding will be incredibly helpful as Georgina heads out to sea for a new round of flapper skate sampling. Watch this space to see what she discovers about this enormous yet mysterious skate and its health in Scotland’s coastal waters. 

Boat out looking for skates

Ways you can help

Giant anteater mother with pup on its back in the Brazilian Cerrado Image: ALESSANDRA BERTASSONI ICAS

Become a Conservation Champion

Conservation Champions are helping to save 50 of the world's most endangered species from extinction. Give from £1 a week to £1 a day and join a growing group of caring people like you, committed to saving animals in danger.

Help save wildlife
Mishmi Takin IMAGE: FoSho 2023

Connect your business to nature

You can get involved in our work via corporate partnerships, corporate sponsorships, exclusive volunteering opportunities, in-kind gifts and much more. Being a corporate partner is a unique path to meeting your business and corporate social responsibility needs.

Find out more
Northern lynx sitting in the snow looking at the camera [eye contact] IMAGE: Laura Moore 2021

Join RZSS as a member

RZSS membership provides much more than just free entry to Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park. Your membership helps support our charity's conservation work around the world.

Become a member