Seals still play to crowds - but visitor numbers down by half

A seal pup at Winterton

A seal pup just in front of the viewing corridor at Winterton. Covid has kept away crowds who usually flock in huge numbers to the village on Boxing Day causing parking chaos. - Credit: Liz Coates

With restrictions on gatherings and a new viewing corridor the seals are the only ones enjoying sharing space on the beach at Winterton.

The tourist-honeypot village has been spared its usual rush over the festive period as people look to have heeded Boris Johnson's warning to "think carefully" about going out of the house.

Peter Ansell, chairman of the Friends of Horsey Seals, the organisation that wardens the colony, said visitor numbers were down by around 50pc at both Winterton and Horsey which together usually see around 100,000 visitors during the pupping season. 

In previous years the village has been overrun by people flocking to see the seals on Boxing Day, whatever the weather leading to parking chaos.

This year, despite favourable beach walking weather, people have stayed away, possibly doubly deterred because there are no pubs open and The Dunes clifftop cafe has gone.

"It has been very quiet," he said.

"Like all other charities our takings are down but I think shifting up to Tier 4 has panicked a lot of people."

This year for the first time a 500m viewing corridor has been put in place aimed at protecting the colony and stopping the pups coming too far up into the dunes.

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People can still walk in the guided areas or along the top of the dunes, offering stunning views of the colony as it goes about its business pretty much undisturbed, the adults lumbering across the sands.

Mr Ansell estimated by the end of the season in January there would likely be more than 2,000 pups born.

Not all would make it to adulthood, with an unknown number swept away by high tides around three weeks ago, particularly at Waxham where the sea comes right up.

Under Tier 4 restrictions people are urged to stay at home to stop the spread of coronavirus and only meet up with one other person outdoors.