Almost half of the world's population of grey seals lives around the British coast, and Norfolk is an important breeding area for these charismatic creatures.

Blakeney Point is home to England's largest Grey seal colony - around 4,000 seal pups are born each year - and it was featured in an episode of Sir David Attenborough's recent TV series, Wild Isles.

Further east, the flat beaches, shallow waters and high dunes around Horsey and Winterton also offer an ideal location for the females to give birth. That colony is growing in size with a record number just shy of 4,000 pups spotted on the five mile stretch between Waxham and Winterton during the 22/23 breeding season. The number was almost double the 2019/2020 figure, when the total pup count was 2,069.

Great British Life: A grey seal pup with its mother. Photo: BjornStefanson/Getty Images/iStockphotoA grey seal pup with its mother. Photo: BjornStefanson/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mothers, known as cows, nurse the pups on the shore for around 21 days, after which they leave them to fend for themselves. The pups stay on the beach for another three weeks, living off the fat reserves they've built up, during which time they shed their distinctive white fur and grow their adult coat. Then they head off into the North Sea to learn how to fish.

Grey seal breeding season is from November to February. There are regular boat trips from Morston Quay to see the seals at Blakeney Point. And the accessibility of Horsey and Winterton makes it an increasingly popular draw for visitors - seeing the awesome spectacle of hundreds of seals on the beach has become a real tradition for many, especially at Christmas and new year. The charity, Friends of Horsey Seals, ensures that it's a safe experience for the seals and wildlife watchers.

But it's not just a winter spectacle.

Great British Life: Going to see the seals has become a Norfolk Christmas tradition. Photo: HelenWalkerz65/Getty Images/iStockphotoGoing to see the seals has become a Norfolk Christmas tradition. Photo: HelenWalkerz65/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the summer months from June to August, Common seals and their pups populate Blakeney Point and the sandbanks of Hunstanton. Common seals have shorter noses, compared with the longer, flat noses of the adult Grey seals and the pups are born with brown coats.

While Grey seals can reach a whopping 2.5 metres in length, and males can weigh as much as 300kg, common seals are smaller, reaching 1.6m in length and up to 100kg in weight.

You might even see them in some unexpected locations. In January, a Grey seal pup was spotted outside a kebab shop in Hemsby after taking a wrong turn from the dunes. It also paid a visit to a local amusement arcade before being rescued and stretchered back to the beach.

Great British Life: A record number of seal pups were born in Norfolk during last year's breeding season. Photo: Ian Dyball/Getty Images/iStockphotoA record number of seal pups were born in Norfolk during last year's breeding season. Photo: Ian Dyball/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Friends of Horsey Seals

Friends of Horsey Seals came into being in 2012 when funding for a Natural England and Broads Authority project to protect the Atlantic Grey seals which had started to give birth on Horsey Beach came to an end. Early helpers including Peter Ansell and Albert Ward felt strongly that the work should continue and local volunteers were recruited to ask visitors to keep their distance during breeding season. The seal colony has been growing every year - it now extends from Waxham to Winterton - and has become a major tourist attraction. The trained wardens make sure that the seals are kept safe and create a positive experience for visitors. Friends of Horsey Seals also has a seal rescue team. Trained by the RSPCA, it operates seven days a week to rescue injured and distressed seals.


If you're planning a trip to see the seals at Horsey and Winterton, here are some essential dos and don'ts.

Stay off the beach

During the 12-week breeding season, from November to January, visitors are asked to stay off the beach and keep to the paths and roped off viewing areas. This is to keep visitors and the seals safe and to avoid unnecessary erosion on the dunes. There will be seal wardens on hand to advise on the best viewing points.

Keep your distance

Seals may look cute, but they are territorial and feisty. Make sure that you are always at least 10 metres away from them. Never get too close or walk between a cow (female seal) and pup - seals are likely to desert their pups if you disturb them, leaving them to starve to death.

Never attempt to stroke a pup or feed a seal - and don't try and get a selfie with them. If you want to take close up pictures, bring a long lens.

Keep your dog on a short lead

Seals will see dogs as predators, so no matter how well trained your dog is, it must be kept on a short lead. Females are very protective of their pups and will bite if a dog gets too close. Seal bites can cause nasty infections, so if your dog is bitten it will need to see a vet immediately. Be mindful that seals sometimes go up into the dunes as well as onto the beach during pupping season, and you may come upon a seal unexpectedly, which is another reason that dogs should not be let off the lead.

Great British Life: Peekaboo. Photo: Ian Dyball/Getty Images/iStockphotoPeekaboo. Photo: Ian Dyball/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you find a lone seal...

You may often spot pups which appear to be on their own. In the three weeks after they're born their mothers might leave them for a short while to swim and hunt for food. The cows leave their pups after about 21 days, then in the following three weeks it will stay on the beach on its own while it moults its white fur, living off its fat reserves. Unless a seal appears injured or distressed, it should be left alone - if you are worried about their condition, advise a seal warden.

Take your rubbish home with you

It goes without saying that you should never leave litter behind - it is hazardous to the local wildlife.

For more information see

Great British Life: The seals shed their white fur as they get older. Photo: Andrew Graham/Getty Images/iStockphotoThe seals shed their white fur as they get older. Photo: Andrew Graham/Getty Images/iStockphoto