'It's magical' - Woman finds bliss among the seals
- Credit: Klausbernd Vollmar/Hanne Siebers
With their flippers, whiskers, grunting and galumphing, seals are among the world's most curious creatures. Reporter STUART ANDERSON spoke to a woman who has found paradise among Norfolk's semi-aquatic wonders.
Watching grey seals' frolics and fights has been a constant fascination for 62-year-old Hanne Siebers, who has been a volunteer seal warden for the National Trust at Blakeney Point since 2018.
“I’ve never felt so strongly for a piece of land as for Blakeney Point, it’s bliss being out there,” she said. “It must be one of the best wildlife experiences in the UK.”
Originally from Norway, Mrs Siebers lived in Germany for 30 years and worked as a nurse, before moving to the UK. After retiring, she found her spiritual home under the big skies of the north Norfolk coast, and now lives in Cley.
Along with three other wardens she shares a shift with, her role involves giving advice and information to visitors - of which there were naturally many more of before the pandemic - and making sure the area is safe for both animals and people.
“You should never walk between a cow and a pup,” she said. “They are very protective and they can be dangerous.”
Mrs Siebers has also been a little tern warden, and has been appointed a National Trust property photographer, giving her the chance to document the grey seal pupping season.
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Lasting from October to January, the season turns Blakeney into Britain’s largest seal colony, becoming home to more than 10,000 grey seal cows, pups and bulls.
Mrs Siebers described the start of the pupping season as exhilarating.
“One day there’s one seal there, the next day a few more, and then suddenly there’s a mass exodus from all over the North Sea and there are thousands of of seals,” she said.
“It’s absolutely magic to be amongst these animals - it has given me the happiest hours of this winter.
“The most sought-after area is the outer point. It’s a no-go area for visitors and it’s where the most dramatic scenes take place. It’s where the bulls fight for territory and chase each other away.”
Mrs Siebers said that while fighting bulls regularly ended up with cuts and scars, they were usually protected from serious harm by their blubber.
“They really are magnificent,” she said. “They’re great characters and each one is different.”
Mrs Siebers has even got names for some seals she has seen more than once. “I have a Mr Sore Eye. He has a crushed eye from fighting, and I also know another cow with a crushed eye.
“I have a real soft spot for them, but they can cope well with one eye, and luckily they have no enemies on Blakeney Point.”
Mrs Siebers said nothing broke her heart more than seeing a seal in pain with a plastic ring or other object caught around its neck.
“Because they are in a colony, in a big group, we cannot go in and try and do something,” she said. “That would disturb the whole group and they would probably crush the pups to death. It’s really sad to see.”
Grey seals pup right around the British coastline, starting in Cornwall in August, then moving to Wales and Scotland as the year progresses and finally down the east coast to Blakeney, which is a special haven for the creatures.
Mrs Siebers said: “Many of these places are very rocky so when there is a high tide or a storm they are threatened, and they can be taken by the water and can’t survive.
“That’s what’s so unique about Blakeney Point, they can come further inland. A couple of days ago I saw seal pups in the side arms of the River Glaven, bobbing around.”
Mrs Siebers said she was already looking forward to the next pupping season. In the meantime, she has a new project, working with author and botanist Richard Porter to catalogue and photograph all of the plants at Blakeney Point.
“I’m very happy to have this project. It’s a unique habitat and there are some very rare plants out there.”