Posted 15th Nov 2017
Image courtesy of © Tom Marshall
Did you know 40 per cent of the entire world population of Atlantic grey seals will make their home around Britain's coasts?
Along the more sheltered east coast, there are only four breeding sites, with the largest to be found amongst the dunes of Donna Nook in Lincolnshire. After spending lazy summer days out at sea, the seals will return to the shelter of the dunes to give birth to their young and do their courting, as winter begins to bite.
The bull seals measure up to two metres in length, and a whopping 300kg in weight, and will be the first to arrive. Spending the end of October and early November staking out their beach territories, the females will follow, looking for a quiet spot to give birth to their pup. Quiet, unfortunately, is something you won't get too much of in a seal colony...
The arrival of the females lead to clashes between the big males who want to claim them for their 'harem', and this will only intensify once the pups are born, as the mothers come back into season. The colony will reach peak nosiness by mid-December, with males fighting and upwards of a thousand pups around of various sizes.
By the end of January, the parents will have left, and the last of the seal pups will make their way to the sea and that will be it - one of the greatest spectacles of them all is over for another year.
How to do it
Visit in the morning, when the light is at its softest. If cute pups are your thing, come at the end of November - for a better chance of seeing the bulls fighting over the females, the peak in activity is mid-December. The seals of Donna Nook are very popular, so if at all possible, visit on a week day to avoid the crowds. Be sure to leave any dogs at home - they don't mix well with baby seals, and can pass diseases on, so leave them at home.
Remember too - no matter how appealing they may look, do not touch them.
Where to see them
A new live-action camera has been installed at one of Cumbria’s most spectacular nature reserves, South Walney Nature Reserve, on Walney Island near Barrow. This spot is the main haul out site for grey seals in the North West of England. Seals can be spotted in the water around the reserve (usually at high tide). However, there is no access to the protected beaches on the reserve to see the seals. The new webcam installed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust now provides the perfect opportunity to watch these charismatic creatures up close as they haul out to rest.
The best place to see grey seal pups (and the second largest colony in the country) is at Donna Nook NNR, Lincolnshire. Here up to 3,000 adults return to breed every winter, with more than 1,000 pups produced in a good year. The wardened viewing area in the dunes gives you the opportunity to get up close (sometimes very close indeed!) to the action.
The Calf of Man on the Isle of Man is a seal breeding and pupping area –53 pups born on the Calf in 2015. Annual pup surveys have taken place here every October since 2009. The seals can be seen all year around the Island but the main places to see them are from the Sound looking over to the Calf of Man and Kitterland. However, they can also be seen around Maughold head and Langness; including Peel harbour. If you want to see the seals on the Calf of Man you will need to book a boat trip with a local skipper out of Port St Mary but seals can be seen from the coasts around the Isle of Man.
Highlands, Isle of Eigg
Orkney, Hill of White Hamars
Pembrokeshire, Skomer - one of the best places to see seal pups during September.
Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts