Record number of seals and pups at Horsey colony

Grey Seals on the beach at Horsey.October 2014Picture: James Bass

Grey Seals on the beach at Horsey.October 2014Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

Counting fluffy white flecks that are always on the move is not the easiest of tasks...

But volunteers at Horsey say more than 1000 seal pups were successfully weaned at the colony this year making for the best ever breeding season.

The record count of 1020 - give or take a few either way - was the highest number since the Friends of Horsey Seals took over organised patrols 12 years ago with just 50 pups striking out on their own.

Peter Ansell, chairman of the friends group, said he was delighted with the final tally and that there was a real feeling of satisfaction among the dedicated team of volunteers who protected them.

The breeding colony is among the most impressive wildlife spectacles in Norfolk drawing tens of thousands of people from November to January.

And with pups appearing in ever higher numbers more and more people were coming to see them too.

Having long winched down the drawbridge to visitors Mr Ansell said wardens would be in place seven days a week next season to cope with the crowds and help people to enjoy nature without causing a disturbance.

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The figure was around 150 up on last year but it was difficult to pinpoint the reason for the soaring numbers, Mr Ansell said.

He speculated that some of the seals had come from Scroby Sands which were regularly flooded and that the increase could also be due to plentiful fish stocks.

Because there were so many seals wardens were having to patrol a stretch more than a mile long.

And with space at a premium some mothers were choosing to raise their young outside the fenced off area meaning they were more vulnerable to disturbance.

He added that coast protection work going on at Horsey could have had an impact on where they settled although he stressed that workers took every care to minimise any impact.

Mr Ansell said: 'They seem to be going up by more than 100 each year. It is the most since the 12 years we have been doing this. When we started there was less than 50.

'We get down there when the first pups are born in the first week of November. In the past we have just done weekends and school holidays but now that word has spread and more and more people are coming down we are looking at this year doing seven days a week.'

The colony suffered a death rate of around 7pc due to still birth, crushing, and abandonment among other things.

Sadly of the seals that did make their way out into the waters around 40pc will die in their first year.

A bank of 150 volunteers was this year needed to marshall the colony working in two hour shifts from 10am to 4pm - their time slots plotted by a computer programme which also sends a reminder message to be at the beach.