‘It’s not safe for staff’ - Booming seal numbers force count rethink

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is exp

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is expected to see a record baby boom of 4,000 new arrivals this year, the National Trust said. PA Photo. - Credit: PA

The rapid growth of England’s largest grey seal colony on the north Norfolk coast has forced a rethink on the way new pups are counted.

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is exp

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is expected to see a record baby boom of 4,000 new arrivals this year, the National Trust said. PA Photo. - Credit: PA

Pup numbers at the National Trust’s Blakeney National Nature Reserve are predicted to reach record highs this season, with more than 4,000 new arrivals expected.

This is up from just 25 pups in 2001, and 3,399 in 2019.

The success of the colony is due to low levels of disturbance and mortality during the first few key weeks of life and a lack of natural predators.

However, it is now almost impossible to record the exact number of pups.

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is exp

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is expected to see a record baby boom of 4,000 new arrivals this year, the National Trust said. PA Photo. - Credit: PA


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Leighton Newman, National Trust ranger, said: “When the seals first started pupping here it was really important to count the pups to help us monitor the health of the colony.

“More recently, however, the density of the colony has increased hugely and walking through the colony is now not safe for staff or for the seals.

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“Over the coming years we can hopefully push forward with this new approach but also work with experts and scientists to keep up with any other new or improved methods of monitoring this important colony.”

Until now, the pups were counted individually by rangers and volunteers walking carefully through the colony, but from this year, numbers of newborns and weaned pups will be recorded in just one specific area, giving an indication of how the whole colony is faring.

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is exp

A grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is expected to see a record baby boom of 4,000 new arrivals this year, the National Trust said. PA Photo. - Credit: PA

This information will be fed into the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at St Andrew’s University in Scotland, which estimates grey seal productivity for the whole of the UK.

Chris Bielby, countryside manager for the National Trust on the North Norfolk Coast said: “Counting the colony only provides a fairly basic overview of the seal colony.

“So we are going to work with the SMRU to do more in-depth research to better-understand why Blakeney has become such an important habitat, and to look at their behaviour to get a greater understanding of these curious creatures.”

The team is also planning to work with SMRU in 2021, when they plan to do an aerial count of the seal colony.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 18
File photo dated 07/01/16 of a grey seal pup on the beach a

EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 18 File photo dated 07/01/16 of a grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. England's largest grey seal colony is expected to see a record baby boom of 4,000 new arrivals this year, the National Trust said. PA Photo. Issue date: Tuesday November 17, 2020. The colony at the Trust's Blakeney National Nature Reserve in Norfolk has grown to such an extent that rangers are having to rethink the way they count the numbers of pups born at the breeding ground. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Seals. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder. - Credit: PA

Mr Bielby added: “It will be exciting to get an accurate picture of just how large the colony is and see if by counting just one area we can infer whether or not the colony is increasing in size.”

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