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17 September 2014
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Coast | Donna Nook

Sensational Seals

Seal pup

Donna Nook on the north-eastern coast of Lincolnshire is a seal watchers' paradise.

It boasts one of the largest and most accessible breeding colonies of Grey Seals in the UK.

 

Seal watchers' paradise - Donna Nook


Grey seals are Britain's biggest land mammal - the males are two metres in length and weigh in at a massive 300 kilograms, roughly the weight of two Sumo wrestlers.

An encounter with a seal at Donna Nook is almost guaranteed because this is effectively a seal maternity hospital.

When autumn turns into winter hundreds of Grey Seals start hauling themselves onto the sand banks on the Lincolnshire coast to give birth to their pups.

Seal sanctuary

Seal pupThere are 3,000 Grey Seals at Donna Nook, and about 900 pups are born here.

The seals are attracted to Donna Nook because of food, space, and safety.

The female seals give birth to one pup and they're suckled for three weeks - the milk is so rich that they will triple their weight during that time.

But as the pups gain weight, the cows are losing it at a rapid rate, 10lb a day - in a bid to feed their young.

These seals are amongst the last to pup in Britain.

Other seal colonies in Wales breed in September whilst those in Scotland breed in October.

November and December are the best times to see the Donna Nook seals.

SealClose up and personal

For the best viewing experience time your visit during the week when it is quieter than weekends - you could virtually have the place to yourself.

Listen for the many different sounds of the Grey Seals ranging from the almost bloodcurdling calls of the adults to the new born pups calling for their mums.

You can get remarkably close to the seals and they are remarkably tolerant of visitors, but don't forget to respect their territory and safety.

Be aware of telltale warning signs - a hiss is often the first warning, and the pups calling for their mum is another.

Finally the wave of the flipper from a female seal usually means back off.

If you get too close, the seals do bite, and the males will charge, and can be surprisingly fast.

Special care needed - seal pups!

SealsNo matter how cute the baby seals look, you must resist the temptation to touch these creatures.

If a mother detects an alien scent on her youngster, there's a chance that the baby will be rejected.

In these early days the pups are so dependent on their mother's milk that rejection means certain death.

When the seal pups have been weaned, the females are available to mate - resulting in one of nature's great spectacles - the bull fight - seal style.

The bull males herd the females into harems and try to hold their territory against competitors.

The fights between males can be vicious and bloody.

Plant life

Sea BuckthornDonna Nook's coastline is also a good place to look for plant life.

The reserve has a good variety of coastal habitats from dunes and mud flats to inter-tidal areas and saltings.

One of the most common plants is Sea Buckthorn and you'll find dense clumps of it along the reserve.

It's easy to spot - this dense, thorny shrub has blue grey leaves and distinctive orange berries which are loved by birds such as Redwings and Fieldfares.

Also look out for marram and sand couch in the dune areas - they play an important role in stabilising these shifting sands.

The dunes also prove attractive to wildflowers, including marsh orchids.

Flowering plants such as the yellow-wort, and bee and pyramidal orchids can also be seen on the reserve.

Areas of saltmarsh and lagoons are characterised by sedges and rushes, and attract a wide variety of wading birds.

One of the easiest birds to spot in winter is the Snow Bunting, which can be seen on the beach with the seals.

Credits

Photos c/o Donna Nook Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

 

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