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17 September 2014
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Urban - Seal Sands

Seal Sands c/o Natural England /Peter Wakeley

Industrial Teesside isn't a location you'd automatically associate with nature watching but a trip to Seal Sands is a real treat for wildlife lovers.

During the medieval period the area was important for the salt industry, with salt being extracted from sea water.

Nature haven with a difference.
Photo - Natural England/Peter Wakeley

Modern visitors can see the grassy mounds of ash from the fires used to evaporate sea water to crystallise the salt, near the North Gare car park.

Today Seal Sands continues to be an important industrial centre - but for petro-chemicals.

Located between Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, you'll find a nuclear power station and chemical works on the horizon but don't let the industrial landscape put you off.

Although it isn't the prettiest place, Seal Sands is a top location for urban wildlife including wading birds and seals.

If you're a wildlife lover, this place is not-to-be-missed, mainly because you can get really close to the animals and birds.

Internationally important wildlife

Seal Sands c/o Natural England/Peter WakeleySeal Sands is of international importance because it's the only area of inter-tidal mud flat between Lindisfarne to its north and the Humber to the south.

This industrial location provides a sense of isolation despite the heavy traffic running along its edges.

Ironically there's relatively little human disturbance, so the birds and mammals can flourish at Seal Sands.

As a result the area can get up to 30,000 ducks and waders in the autumn and winter months.

Sometimes the industry works in favour of the wildlife in strange ways - some of the raptors, for example, use the industrial chimneys as perches.

As a result it's a surprisingly good place to spot Peregrine Falcons and Short-eared Owls.

Industry and nature

CormorantThe industrial lighting also helps wading birds to feed around the clock, another happy accident.

The northern side of Seal Sands reserve at North Gare is a large expanse of sand-dune and mudflat, a top spot to see birds.

The hide on the northern side of Seal Sands provides one of the best views of the birds including Shelduck, Knot and Redshank.

The southern hide at Greatham Creek also provides a good view point for both birds and seals.

Occasionally bird watchers will see rarer species like Little Egret and Red-throated Divers.

Look beyond the heavy industry and this is also a great spot to find flowers in summer and birds throughout the year.

Seals spectacle

SealOnce upon a time there were more than 1,000 seals lounging on the sandbanks at Seal Sands, but pollution, dredging and human interference resulted in a dramatic decline in their population.

By the 1930's a sight of a seal was very rare.

It was only in the 1960's that Grey Seals returned, followed in the 1980s by the rarer Common Seals.

Even then it was a tough time for the returning animals - pollution was still a problem.

It's only in recent years that things have improved - and visitors can now find around 100 seals at Seal Sands.

If you visit at a low tide, you'll nearly always see the animals lounging out on the sandbank in the middle of the lagoon.

Come when the tide is in and you'll be able to see the seals
much more closely as they push themselves up Greatham Creek, which runs under the busy main road, before pulling themselves out onto the mudbanks.

Who would have thought that you'd get top quality views of one of our largest mammals from a footpath by a busy road between a power station and an oil refinery?

Go on the Seal Sands wildlife walk

Photo credits

Images courtesy and copyright of Natural England and Peter Wakeley.



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