Rangers use drone to help with Farne Islands seal pup count

Press release
Seal pup count
Published : 22 Dec 2017

National Trust rangers used drones to record the second highest number ever of seal pups born on the Farne Islands. This year’s tally looked set to break the previous record of 2,295 pups, until bad weather stopped the team from finishing the count.

The rangers live on the exposed islands off the Northumberland Coast between April and December, with the annual seal count taking place over several months from October. Footage from the drones enabled the rangers to map the locations of newly born seals without intruding on the pups, and their parents.

Gwen Potter, Countryside Manager, National Trust, said, “The team have battled the elements once again to conduct this year’s count – which would have been record breaking if we’d had better luck with the weather!

“The drone was effective, helping us to be more flexible and accurate. We’re in the hands of nature out here, and our plans for the day are always shaped by the weather.”

The Farne Islands provide safe, sheltered breeding grounds for the seals and the remoteness keeps disturbances to a minimum. The high count is welcomed by conservationists after Storms Ophelia and Brian affected seal populations in other parts of the UK.

Matthew Oates, nature expert at the National Trust, said, “It’s fantastic to see the Farne Islands colony thriving again this year. The same can’t be said for other colonies on the west coast, some of which suffered a high mortality rate from the late summer storms.”

The seal pups are fed for anywhere between 16-21 days before they are weaned and then it’s another few weeks until they moult their soft white coats and their dense grey waterproof fur comes through.

Rangers from the conservation charity spend two months monitoring the success rate of the breeding seals, which is crucial to understanding how the population is faring.

The UK is home to nearly half of the world’s grey seals. The Farne Islands has a population of approximately 7,000 seals, based on multiplying the number of pups born this year by 3.5.

For more information and images, contact Press.Office@nationaltrust.org.uk