More than 500 grey seals recorded at a Cumbrian nature reserve for the first time

Cumbria’s South Walney Nature Reserve has recorded 518 grey seals in a record first.

Drones were used at the South Walney Nature Reserve in Barrow, England where 518 seals were counted between September 2020 and March 2021. This compares to the previous highs recorded in March 2019 when drone technology counted 483 seals, and 360 counted in January 2018.

The grey seal is one of the two largest seal species found in the UK, along with the common seal. South Walney Nature Reserve is home to the only grey seal colony in Cumbria. Managed by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, South Walney Nature Reserve carry out seal surveys every fortnight from September to March.

Welcoming the news, Dr Emily Baxter, Senior Marine Conservation Officer at Cumbria Wildlife Trust said: “This is very exciting news and is a five-fold increase in the population of grey seals in nine years. We’re lucky enough to have Cumbria’s only grey seal colony here at South Walney Nature Reserve and in fact this is the only place that seals haul out in large numbers in the whole of the North West! It’s a precious colony that has grown rapidly over the last 10 years.”

The surveys conducted by Cumbria Wildlife Trust monitor the seal population structure in the area from year to year. The behaviours displayed by the seals are also monitored to gain an understanding of how they respond to different factors. This includes how they are affected by human disturbance, such as boating and recreational use of the sea surrounding Walney Island. 

In addition to drone technology, which the Cumbria Wildlife Trust requires special permission from Natural England to avoid distressing the seals and other wildlife, also use traditional methods to count the seals, which involve crawling across the shingle and watching the seals through binoculars, to compare results.

The beaches where the seals haul up are not open to the public. They can be seen playing in the water at high tide, along with thousands of wildfowl and wading birds. Braithwaite Hide, where the seals can usually be viewed from, is currently closed but we’ve put up a screened viewing point next to it, to allow people to get a better view of seals in the water, without disturbing wildlife.

Image Source: Cumbria Wildlife Trust/ © Tom Marshall

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. 

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