The grey seal colony at Blakeney in north Norfolk starred in the BBC’s Winterwatch the other day. Television cameras arrived to news that 2,426 pups were born there during the breeding season that began in November and has just about run its course.
I missed the TV programme but was lucky enough before Christmas to see and take a few photographs (see gallery above) of the smaller colony at Horsey beach, further round the coast towards Great Yarmouth. The rookery, or haul-out as the breeding site is known, stretched as far as the eye could see along the beach.
Volunteer wardens from the admirable Friends of Horsey Seals have taken over the work of Natural England, who apparently have other priorities, in roping off a walkway on the dunes at the back of the beach, themselves in need of careful management, and guiding visitors so that they can see the seals without disturbing them.
On the crisp, sunny day we visited there was a constant stream of people walking out to the beach and following the sensible advice, which includes keeping dogs firmly on a lead. Even so, there was the odd seal in the dunes to be skirted around. They do have a nasty bite and this is not the time to get up close and personal.
By now most of the pups will now have moulted their warm white birth coat for a mottled waterproof covering and, when they’ve exhausted the layers of fat they built up from their mothers’ milk, will have to take to the sea and learn how to fish for themselves.
The cycle will be repeated next year, which is necessary as more than half the pups will not survive their first year. The bulls turn up after the females have given birth and there can be a lot of aggression as they seek the best territory for mating.
For more information, see the Friends of Horsey Seals website: http://friendsofhorseyseals.co.uk/index.htm