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  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes

THE SEALS ARE TIGHT


This young Grey Seal has ventured into the Blakeney marshes.

One thing I fondly remember from my childhood village school days, was jumping off the big beige sand dunes over on Blakeney Point after having gone to see the seals on a field trip. Blakeney Point is a National Nature Reserve near the coastal villages of Blakeney, Morston and Cley next the Sea on the north coast of Norfolk in England. Over the years, the land has seen some major natural changes. The sand on the dunes is now covered with moss and long grasses, meaning there is no more jumping off of them to land in the soft powder below as I once did in my youth. We used to run off the tops and take flight to land in big piles of it a few metres below. What surprises me the most, is how much the surface of the spit has grown. The Point is a 6.4 km spit of shingle with sand dunes, salt marshes and tidal mudflats. The spit moves towards the mainland at about one metre per year, so I’ve seen quite a bit of change since the 80s and 90s.


The spit is a constantly changing system that grows over time, moving towards the coast and extends towards the west. The land is lost to the sea as the spit rolls forward, which can block the River Glaven and that can cause the marshes and the Cley village to flood, so the river has to be realigned every decade or so to keep the dynamics under check.


The National Trust has managed Blakeney Point since 1912, but it has also acquired protection and interest from several other scientific research unions and associations over the years. The Point has been studied for over a century and there is still a lot to learn from it.


Visitors come here specifically to birdwatch, sail and walk. There are seasons for everything to work in harmony with the human interaction as to not jeopardise the nesting birds, the fragile habitats and the dunes, and of course to see the Blakeney Point seals, so some areas are unaccessible depending on the season.


Some of the Blakeney Point Common Seals.

On a quick trip over to the UK in September, we took the opportunity to go out to the Point to go and see the Grey and Common Seals, and find out how their populations are doing. Much to my surprise, they are doing amazingly well. Blakeney Point is a perfect breeding ground with lots of open space and no natural predators, so the pup survival rates are high with only a 5% mortality.


Common Seals and Grey Seals basking in the sunlight.

25 pups were born in 2001, but the numbers have since increased over the years and in 2014, Blakeney Point became the largest seal colony in England with over 2,000 pups born annually. Common Seals are born between June and August and Greys between November and January. The Grey Seal pups are born on land and have incredibly cute fluffy white coats for up to 3 weeks, which they will then shed as they triple in size with the rich mothers’ milk they are fed. After the 3 weeks are up, the pups are left to fend for themselves, they take on adulthood and begin mating soon after with several females and fight with other bulls for territories, making Grey Seals quite the dramatic and dangerous wild animals that they are. They definitely dominate the seal population between the two species. They are the largest mammals on British shores and are also known as Atlantic Seals, so if you ever hear their second reference, you know they are the same.


Grey Seal Pup.

The boat rides are a great way to get close to the seals. Grey Seals are incredibly inquisitive and will come up close to the boats and swim around them. You get a close look into their big black eyes of their long pointed heads with their long briskly whiskers. You also get a really nice view of the basking seals where you will also see some of the smaller Common Seals with their petite and very cute rounded faces.


Grey Seals coming in for a closer look at us on the boat.
A curious Grey Seal.

Female Grey Seals can live up to 35 years, whereas the males only reach up to 25 years of age. They can withstand breath holds of 30 minutes and are known to dive down to a depth of 70 metres. They reach swimming speeds of 19 km an hour, and on land they can move to the pace of a casual jog, which is actually quite fast when you think they are waddlers.


This young Grey Seal has ventured into the Blakeney marshes.
This young Grey Seal has ventured into the Blakeney marshes.

After you’ve seen the seals by boat, you can opt to land on Blakeney Point (you get 30 minutes) and you can walk along the footpaths of the hills to see the gorgeous views, and visit the Lifeboat House which is a visitors centre.


Along the footpaths of the hills.
One of the lovely views from Blakeney Point.

The Lifeboat House is home to the rangers who live on Blakeney Point during the summer months only. The ranger team protect and monitor the seal colony which includes regularly counting them, and if any are found to be in need of medical attention, they are taken to the RSPCA Wildlife Hospital.


The Lifeboat House on Blakeney Point.

When pups are sometimes found on their own, as it does so happen, it does not always mean they have been abandoned, nor does it mean they are distressed, especially when you hear them make a ruckus which will inevitably sound like crying to you. They’re just being baby seals and doing what they do best. Mothers do tend to leave them for short periods of time, everyone needs a breather every once in a while, but they’ll soon come back to nurse them. Approaching baby seals is not advised as this does cause a lot of unnecessary stress to them, so it’s best to keep a distance and assess the situation from a different angle as to whether or not it does actually need help. If it does need help, then call the National Trust directly and their expertise will solve the problem. Interfering with baby seals can cause major issues such as actual abandonment or crushing of the pups which can be fatal.


This young Grey Seal has ventured into the Blakeney marshes.

ORGANISING SEAL TRIPS

There are 2 boat companies running daily trips in which I can recommend the one we used, Temples.


1. TEMPLES SEAL TRIPS

Depending on whether you want to go onto Blakeney Point, you will have to check the schedules on whether they are offering the 1 hour boat trips or the 1.5 hour boat trip with a Blakeney Point landing. I advise the landing.


The tides flood the coastal sites twice a day which also makes taking off from Morston Quay a bit of a wait for the tide to come back in and unbeach the boats. You will have to check the daily timetables when you book a trip to see what the tides are doing.


Bookings cannot be made via email, so you will have to ring to make reservations if you are in the area.


Tel: +44 1263 740 791


2. BEANS BOAT TRIPS


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