The seal population at Blakeney Point has gone into decline for the first time since records began. Blakeney Point is one of three breeding seal colonies in Norfolk along with Horsey Gap and Hunstanton. Since 2010 the colony at Blakeney Point has been growing year on year and in 2014 it became the largest seal population in England.
Blakeney Point is home to both common and grey seals. Common seals have their young between June and August and the grey seals between November and January. The main reasons for the large seal presence in Norfolk is the lack of predators and the vast expanse of flat land which is well protected by sand dunes.
Grey seals began colonising the spit at Blakeney Point in the late 1980s, with the first seal pups being born between 1987 and 1988. The first official records of seal pups at Blakeney Point were in 1999 and the population has been growing ever since.
From 2010 the seal colony at Blakeney Point has grown almost ten-fold, until it peaked at 2,426 individuals in 2014. 2,342 pups were recorded in 2015, a decline of 84 pups. Although this can be seen as bad news for the colony, the National Trust, who manage the four mile stretch of beach and sand dunes, view the population decline as a good thing. A National Trust spokesperson said. “This is good news, as the seals were spreading at such a rate over such a big area that it makes it easier to protect them”.
When a breeding site becomes too densely populated, the seals tend to colonise new habitats. In recent years there has been increasing evidence that the seals from Blakeney Point and Horsey Gap have been moving south towards the Thames estuary and northern France.
2015 was a significant year for Norfolk seals, with what is believed to be the first birth of grey seal twins in the UK at Horsey Gap. In December a grey seal gave birth to twins but abandoned them fewer than three weeks later; it is thought that she abandoned the pups as a result of a human disturbance. The seal pups, aptly named R2D2 and C3PO, are now being cared for by the RSPCA until they can be released back into the sea.
The seals have become a real tourist attraction in Norfolk, with over 100,000 visitors coming to the beaches every year.