'I thought it was a scam' - Seal conservationist receives Queen's honour

Fence being put up by Horsey Friends of Seals and Natural England Volunteers at Winterton beach to p

Fence being put up by Horsey Friends of Seals and Natural England Volunteers at Winterton beach to protect the seals. Peter Ansell Chairman of Friends of Horsey Seals - Credit: BRITTANY WOODMAN

A man who has spent the last decade caring for grey seals along Norfolk's east coast says he is "astonished" to be receiving a Medal of the Order of the British Empire for his conservation efforts.

Peter Ansell, 86, has lived in Rollesby with his wife Margaret for the past 18 years - and only got into seal protection by accident.

Fence being put up by Horsey Friends of Seals and Natural England Volunteers at Winterton beach to p

Fence being put up by Horsey Friends of Seals and Natural England Volunteers at Winterton beach to protect the seals. Left Peter Ansell Chairman of Friends of Horsey Seals , David Vice, Sally Butler, Billy Le Compte. Right, John White Reserves Warden Natural England - Credit: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Though originally from London, he is the chairman and one of the founding members of the group Friends of Horsey Seals, which this spring will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. 

He said: "Back in 2002/2003, a small group of seals appeared at Horsey giving birth to pups in the winter. From there the population grew massively.

"Natural England and the Broads Authority began patrols to keep an eye on them, but austerity put an end to that.

Wardens rescuing a seal

FoHS wardens rescuing a seal. From left to right: Tony Chapman, Billy Le Compte and David Vyse - Credit: Damien Stabler


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"Instead, they asked a few of us who volunteered with other groups in the area to form our own band of wardens, which we did in 2011. 

"I had absolutely no interest in seals before that. We started off with nothing, but eventually collected enough donations for a rescue vehicle.

"We later filed to become a registered charity and, as of this year, have over 300 volunteers keeping an eye on thousands of seals all the way from Waxham to Winterton. I was out just this morning rescuing a stranded pup."

Peter Ansell on the beach

Friends of Horsey Seals' trustees have called Mr Ansell an 'inspiration' for the work he has done in protecting grey seals on Norfolk's beaches - Credit: Jo Davenport

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Reflecting on his medal, awarded to individuals for meritorious civil or military service, Mr Ansell said: "I'm just someone who likes seals, and the spokesperson for a group of terrific volunteers.

"The real honour should go to the wardens for the work they do, no matter what the weather."

He also paid tribute to his wife, who he joked is his "unpaid and unofficial PA".

seal pup and its mother

A seal pup and its mother - Credit: Laura Lake

In fact, Mr Ansell was so incredulous at the email he received from the Cabinet Office informing him of his award he dismissed it as a scam.

He said: "They sent me a few telling me I had this award. I thought: 'This is definitely someone trying to get money out of me. These scammers get better every time.'"

It wasn't until he got a phone call the day before his honours invitation expired that he was convinced.

"When she didn't ask me for any bank details I decided it was probably genuine," he said.

"I'm astonished. I've never received anything like this before."

seal on the beach

A seal pup frolicking on Winterton beach - Credit: Harry Van Gorkum


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