Plea to keep away from Norfolk seals

SEAL-watchers who get too close to the colony on Winterton beach could find photographs of themselves posted on-line by a new group which is fighting to minimise the conflict between people and pups.

Nature lover Donna Martin of Granville Road, Cobholm, says the hordes of often well-intentioned visitors heading to beaches at Winterton are pounding past pups and putting their lives at risk.

Now she is resorting to posting pictures of those she considers are ignoring 'keep your distance' warnings on her Protect Norfolk Seals Facebook page.

The group was set up on Monday and already has 20 'likes', including one from TV astronomer professor Brian Cox.

She hopes the 'shoot and shame' effort will encourage people to keep their distance and to see the spectacular animals - all wide-eyes, white fur and whiskers - as more than a photo opportunity.

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Mrs Martin, 40, a blogger with two teenage children, said people were respecting the cordon at Horsey but at Winterton dog walkers were allowing their pets to roam free and children were posing with the seals for family snaps.

'It was not this bad last year,' she said. 'I have never seen anything like it. We noticed that the seals were behaving differently and that there were a few dead pups. The females looked a lot more nervous and we assumed it was another male seal.

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'But this week it was horrendous. We went down there early one morning to take some lovely pictures from the dunes and there was a crowd of joggers stomping past. The mothers will leave them if there is an unfamiliar scent.

'And we saw one newborn shedding its fur but it was very small and I'm 100pc certain it hadn't been fed.

'I have never seen it this bad. I was disgusted.

'If people enjoy seeing them they should learn about them. The runners showed no respect and mothers with children should not be teaching them how to terrify the seals and get the mothers to abandon their pups. If people want to enjoy the seals they should sit away and watch from a distance, they will behave more naturally and they will get better pictures.'

Mrs Martin has launched Protect Norfolk Seals with her photographer boyfriend Jamie Alexander, 42, from Belton.

'Seals are precious,' she said. 'They should be left alone. Every time someone stands on the beach they are risking a pup's life.'

Rick Southwood of Natural England said that some conflict with people was inevitable given that the seals were more numerous and more spread out than in previous years.

He said: 'The seals think that we are large predators, especially our dogs and getting too close really stresses them, even though they look calm. By all means appreciate them but stay a good 10m away.

'Mothers will desert the pups if they are very stressed, and not be able to feed them very well. Pups only have a few weeks to put on a lot of weight which means they are less likely to survive, which is not what anyone wants.'

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