🍂Autumn has well and truly arrived and the last of the summer sun has gone. Life in the British countryside is getting sleepy, slowly fading into a winter slumber full of frosty mornings and naked hedgerows. But for the ocean, this time of year brings a whole new wave of life and it's not too late to see it.
🍃Most animals wait until the turn of spring to have their young, but unlike most, seals give birth to their pups in the autumn. Although scientists are not quite sure why it's thought that after a summer of gorging on fish, the mothers are in great shape making it the best time to raise a pup successfully.
📍In the UK we have two species of seal; Harbour seals (also known as Common seals) and Grey seals. Both are beautiful but can be a little tricky to tell apart, especially for the untrained eye. Here's an I.D guide by the Marine Mammal Research Unit if you want to give it a go!
🗺So where can you find these cute sausages? Baby grey seal 👇
⭐️Here is a list of some of my top picks to spot mothers and their fluffy pups. I haven't been to all these places but I've done as much research as possible to give you a varied guide for options all across the UK.
1. 📍Blakeney Point, Norfolk
This vast, 4-mile long sand spit is a dynamic landscape. Laced with sand dunes which shelter quilts of salt marshes and tidal mudflats, it's home to one of the largest grey seal rookeries in the UK, with harbour seals frequenting its beaches too. The best way to see them here is by boat and daily trips leave from Morsten Quay throughout the season. This will give you a great chance to see them hauled up on beaches, and if you are lucky, even playing in the water.
2. 📍Farne Islands, Northumberland
This is arguably the best place in the UK to not only see but interact with seals (more on the ethics of interacting with wildlife below!). Again, like Blakeney, these off-shore islands are mainly populated with grey seals. You can access the islands through regular boat charters which are run by a number of small companies. However, unlike other places, charters run a number of snorkelling and diving trips, giving you the opportunity, if lucky, to get closer than ever to these beautiful creatures - yes please!
3. 📍Pembrokeshire Coastline, Wales
Naturally, being from this part of the world, I had to plug it in the list somewhere!
From boat trips to coastal rambles, Pemb's has infinite opportunities to see seals, with them inhabiting almost every cove along its 180-mile long coastline. And without an ounce of bias, it's the most beautiful place in Britain - even more reason to visit!
🛥Take a short boat ride to the unspoilt RSPB nature reserve of Ramsey Island where you'll find grey seals hauled up on every rocky shore at the feet of its steep craggy cliffs. There's also a good chance you'll get to see porpoises along the way having seen them many times when on boat trips around the coast here!
🚶But if you'd rather keep your feet on solid ground, why not go for a walk along the coastline? I'd suggest walking the coastal path around Marloes peninsula. Here's a National Trust map for a suggested route. You're also not far from Dale here - a small seaside town where my great-great-grandmother grew up. Importantly, it has a quaint beachside cafe and pub for a well-earned refreshment post seal searching.
Harbour seal muma and pup!👇
4. 📍Mutton Cove, Godrevy Point, Cornwall
A short walk from a National Trust carpark, this cliff-top perch will give you a birds-eye view of a well-established grey seal rookery with the rugged coastline as a scenic backdrop. Here you can watch from afar without the fear of disturbing the seals and get a good look at lots of them at once. And who doesn't enjoy a cliff-top picnic? I do!
5. 📍Donna Nook, Lincolnshire
This is another great spot on the east coast of England with easy access from a car-park near-by. This reserve is managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and to ensure the welfare of the seals, a fenced viewing area has been erected making sure people maintain a safe distance. However, a fence doesn't stop you from getting a good view, with some mothers choosing to have their pups right next to the fence! Something to be aware of is that the car-park is small, you have to pay and it gets busy at this time of year. But if all that doesn't put you off then this place may well seal the deal for you.
6. 📍Moray Firth & Orkney, Scotland
So here I've been cheeky and put two places because Scotland is great and you should go!
The Moray Firth is the name of a vast inlet which forms part of the North Sea off the east coast of Scotland. This area is a stronghold for Harbour seals and you can find them hauled up on the sandy banks along this coastline throughout the year. The Firth is also a hot-spot for other marine mammals and home to the most northerly population of Bottlenose dolphin in the world!
If you've got time to spare and fancy a remote escape then Orkney is the one for you! These isolated islands are a short ferry ride from the mainland. Shrouded in history, they're a time capsule reminiscent of a time long ago. And alongside their mystical magic, they're home to 15% of the worlds global seal population, making them maybe the best spot in Britain for spotting selkies!? And whilst you're looking, keep an eye out for the mother of all wildlife finds, Orca! Each year more sightings of these apex predators are being made in the Orkney Islands, so maybe you might just get lucky.
Grey seals! 👇
🐬Watching Wildlife Responsibly 🔭
Although it's within our nature to want to get close, it's important to remember these animals are wild and maintaining a distance keeps both you and them safe. Seals, in particular, are easily spooked and frightened when approached on land. This is important to consider when watching mothers with pups. Getting too close could lead her to abandon her young - something you really don't want to happen! So in general, give them lots of space. It's recommended at least 100m.
When it comes to interacting with seals in the water it's a very different story! Here they are in their comfort zone and will quite often play with divers. They've been known to inquisitively bite their fins and give people leg hugs - I kid you not! In this instance enjoy the moment - you're one lucky periwinkle! But remember, always let them approach you first and never swim after them. Wait quietly and avoid sudden movements which could spook or elicit an aggressive response. And if you're getting the feeling you're unwelcome, then you probably are!
So now I've done my preaching, go forth and find those seals! But if you haven't read enough and want to know more, head over to the Marine Conservation website where you can learn more about these beautiful sea creatures.
Remember to tag us on your adventures with #OceanRoamer!
🌊Happy Roaming 🌊