Blakeney Point seals its place in the record books

Ajay Tegala, Coastal Ranger Ajay Tegala Coastal Ranger
Grey seal pup at Blakeney Point
Published : 10 Jan 2018 Last update : 22 Jul 2020

The final count is in and rangers at the National Trust’s Blakeney National Nature Reserve confirm that this year’s grey seal pups have not only broken all previous records for the Norfolk reserve, but England as well, with 2,700 born this winter.

The grey seal rookery has increased remarkably since it was established in 2001, when just 25 pups were born. Passing the 2,000 mark in 2012 and reaching 2,453 in 2014. Now after two years of relative stability, the rookery has grown again to a new record breaking peak. 

National Trust rangers monitor the colony by counting and recording seal pups born at Blakeney Point throughout the winter. The count, which began on 23 October 2017, was a record in itself, as this was the earliest date for a grey seal birth on the Point, by three days.


Counting the seal pups at Blakeney

National Trust Ranger, Ajay Tegala, counts the seals with the help of a team of volunteers. And it's no easy task counting over 2,000 seal pups! Find out how the team at Blakeney Point do it.

The perfect breeding site

Although we can’t say for certain what’s led to this record breaking year at Blakeney Point, the reserve is the perfect breeding site for grey seals, not least because of the absence of predators and the relative remoteness which keeps disturbance to a minimum. 

There’s also plenty of space to support the large numbers of seals on the sandy beach, with sheltered sand dunes further inland adding additional protection from bad weather. It’s also worth noting that the east coast has escaped some of the worst storms to hit the UK this winter, with grey seal rookeries on the west coast faring less well following Hurricane Ophelia in October.

Most of the seals will spend the majority of the year foraging for food across the North Sea. But females tend to return to the same breeding sites year after year. With increasing population numbers in recent years and those females now reaching breeding age, it’s a contributing factor to the colony’s increasing size. Also, with a mortality rate of less than 2.5% this winter, Blakeney Point continues to be a healthy, successful and productive rookery.

Blakeney remains the largest seal colony in England
Close up of a female adult grey seal
Blakeney remains the largest seal colony in England

What do we know about the new arrivals?

Grey seal pups are born on land, with white coats and are fed on their mother’s rich milk for up to three weeks. In this time, they triple in size and shed their white fur.

The mother then leaves the pup to fend for itself and usually by this stage she is exhausted and starving, so heads to sea to feed.

Grey seal pups stay on land until they shed their white fur
Grey seal pup at Blakeney Point
Grey seal pups stay on land until they shed their white fur
" We’d like to say a really big thank you to all of our amazing volunteers who have spent hours of their time helping us to monitor the colony this winter. We are fortunate to have a really supportive local community and visitors to the reserve, who help to keep disturbance of the seals to a minimum, by sticking to waymarked routes and ensuring their dogs are on leads."
- Ajay Tegala

How are seals faring elsewhere?

Elsewhere, seal colonies have fared well around the UK this year. 

The National Trust’s Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast reported high numbers with the arrival of 2,010 pups. Donna Nook, which is cared for by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust saw births pass the 2,030 mark for the first time and a record 1,820 pups were counted further along the Norfolk coastline at Horsey.

Grey seal pups tend to stay with their mother's for up to three weeks
Grey seal pup on the beach at Blakeney Point
Grey seal pups tend to stay with their mother's for up to three weeks