Bumper year for Blakeney Point seal pups

Some of the wildlife stars of the north Norfolk coast are celebrating a best-ever breeding season – but the sensitive new arrivals may need help coping with the rigours of winter.

Blakeney Point's grey seal population has grown to its largest size on record, with more than 770 new pups spotted since early November this year.

The first recorded grey seal pup at the national nature reserve was born in 1988, and by 2001 an established breeding colony had produced 25 offspring.

Since then, the number of births has increased dramatically, and is expected to top 850 this year, bringing the total population of pups, mothers and bulls to more than 1,800.

While the continued success of the colony has been celebrated by conservationists, there were warnings for wildlife lovers to be wary of human interference on the families of marine mammals.

Also, the recent combination of high tides and strong winds has washed some of the pups ashore at less-remote locations on the coast, leading to some injuries and fatalities.

Graham Lubbock, one of the National Trust's wardens in north Norfolk, said: 'The seals are a much-loved feature of the Norfolk coast, and a very important part of what makes Blakeney Point so special. The best way for people to see them is by taking a seal boat trip from Morston Quay.

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'If people do decide to walk the 3.5-mile walk along Blakeney Point to see the seals then we urge them to be extra vigilant for the seals and their young pups which are now dispersed across the property. Seals can be aggressive and will bite so visitors with dogs are asked to keep their dogs on leads.

'Seals are incredibly sensitive to human disturbance. Land-bound pups may look OK if they are approached, but they can be distressed by the experience. The females will defend their pups if they perceive any danger, but the bulls are there to mate, so will defend the females, flattening pups in their wake.'

Mr Lubbock said more than 20 telephone calls had been received last week about young pups which had been found in areas like Morston Marshes and Blakeney Quay following high tides and strong winds.

'This is a naturally functioning seal population which will have some mortality, although we do respond to welfare concerns raised by the public and proactively liaise with the RSPCA,' he said. 'However, the majority of young pups are healthy and if left undisturbed will be OK.'

Grey seals take four to five years to reach breeding maturity, and often return to breed at the place they were born – which is why the Blakeney population has continued to grow.

'At some point, they'll reach capacity, both in terms of space on the beach and food supply,' said Mr Lubbock. 'We were expecting to see the number of new born pups level off from year to year but there is no sign of that happening yet. It is such a success story for the grey seal.'

?With more high winds predicted, the National Trust is asking the public to look out for young seals appearing in areas away from Blakeney Point. If they show obvious signs of injury or distress, contact the National Trust on 01263 740241 or the RSPCA on 0870 55 55 999.

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