Record number of grey seals spotted on UK beach

A total of 518 grey seals were counted at a nature reserve in Cumbria, representing a five-fold increase over nine years, conservationists said (Picture: Getty)

A record number of seals have been counted by drones at a British nature reserve.

Some 518 grey seals were recorded by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust at the South Walney Nature Reserve in Barrow between September 2020 and March this year.

This means the population of the colony has increased by 7.2% since 2019, when there were 483 seals, and by 43.9% since 2018, when there were just 360.

Dr Emily Baxter, a marine conservation officer, said: ‘This is very exciting news and is a five-fold increase in the population of grey seals during the nine years that I’ve been with the trust.’

Natural England granted special permission for the use of drones, which must be flown particularly high to avoid distressing the seals and other wildlife. 

But volunteers also continued to count the mammals manually by using binoculars and crawling along the shingle beaches. 

‘Both methods are important, but the drone gives us more accurate numbers,’ Dr Baxter added.

Grey Seal with its white pup during breeding season at Blakeney Point in Norfolk (Picture: Getty Images)

The devices monitored the seals every two weeks, helping to record their behaviour, and the effect of human activity.

While seal beaches are off limits to the public, there were several incidents of people practising water sports and landing kayaks in protected areas during the coronavirus lockdown, which scared some seals into the water. 

‘When seals are disturbed, they flee into the sea, using up important energy stores,’ Dr Baxter said. 

The grey seal is the largest of two seal species found in the UK, along with the common seal, and can weigh up to 300 pounds and measure 2.6m in length.

A grey seal colony captured on the beaches of Norfolk (Picture: Getty Images)

They spend the majority of their time feeding out at sea, but will ‘haul out’ onto secluded beaches or rocks during the winter. 

Fluffy white seal pups are born in the autumn and stay on land until they lose their baby coats and triple in size. 

Those wanting to get close to the cute pups or adult seals can view them via the ‘seal cam’ on the Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s website.

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