And finally:

Record number of seals are counted at South Walney - Cumbria Wildlife Trust

The drone counted record numbers of seals at South Walney Nature Reserve this spring © Cumbria Wildlife Trust
The drone counted record numbers of seals at South Walney Nature Reserve this spring © Cumbria Wildlife Trust

For the first time over 500 grey seals have been recorded at our nature reserve near Barrow

We've counted a record number of grey seals at South Walney Nature Reserve, thanks to the latest drone technology. Our recent drone survey counted 518 seals. The previous highest survey recorded 483 seals (March 2019), and prior to that, 360 was the highest count (January 2018).

Dr Emily Baxter, Senior Marine Conservation Officer at Cumbria Wildlife Trust said: “This is very exciting news and is a five-fold increase in the population of grey seals during the nine years that I’ve been with the Trust. We’re lucky enough to have Cumbria’s only grey seal colony here at South Walney Nature Reserve and in fact this is the only place that seals haul out in large numbers in the whole of the North West! It’s a precious colony that has grown rapidly over the last 10 years.”

Dr Baxter explains how the grey seal population is counted: “We take great care using a drone, which flies very high and requires special permission from Natural England, to avoid distressing the seals and other wildlife. We’ve been using this exciting new technology to survey the seals for the past few years. It’s a great resource for us to use, although we’re continuing with our traditional counts, which involve us crawling across the shingle and watching the seals through binoculars, to compare results. Both methods are important, but the drone gives us more accurate numbers.”

Seal surveys are carried out fortnightly at South Walney Nature Reserve, from September to March. Some drone surveys are also done in the summer, to contribute to the UK seal census in August. The surveys monitor the seal population structure in the area from year to year. The behaviours displayed by the seals are also monitored to gain an understanding of how they respond to different factors. This includes how they are affected by human disturbance, such as boating and recreational use of the sea surrounding Walney Island.

Dr Baxter says the fact that the seal colony is thriving is not down to luck but thanks to the protective measures that we've put in place: “Staff and volunteers at South Walney Nature Reserve have worked really hard to make sure the colony of grey seals is protected from disturbance from people and dogs, as the beaches are closed to the public. However during lockdown there were a number of incidents with people landing kayaks onto the protected beaches. This caused a significant amount of disturbance, including putting flocks of thousands of waders into the air and scaring the seals away. When seals are disturbed, they flee into the sea using up important energy stores.”

The best way to enjoy the grey seals is to watch our live streaming seal cam.

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Posted On: 13/04/2021

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