Aerial view of seal pup birth at South Walney Nature Reserve

Friday 25th November 2016

Grey seal born at South Walney Nature Reserve November 2016Grey seal born at South Walney Nature Reserve November 2016

Thanks to the latest drone technology, staff at Cumbria Wildlife Trust are able to monitor the grey seal colony at South Walney Nature Reserve, located on Walney Island which lies just off the south-west coast of Cumbria, more effectively but yesterday there was a special treat in store for them.

Sarah Dalrymple, reserves officer at the nature reserve, describes what happened: “Yesterday our marine trainees set off the drone as normal to do our fortnightly count of seals. The drone flies very high, to avoid disturbing the seals and other wildlife, and during the flight, we can only track the images on our mobile phone so couldn’t see much. It took several images over about five minutes and when we got back to the office and zoomed into them, we realised that one of the seals had actually been giving birth while the drone was flying above, which was very exciting!”

Fifth grey seal pup born at South Walney Nature Reserve

Last year was the first time that seals pups were recorded on the island, with two being verified. Yesterday’s birth has brought the total this year to five seal pups and as the breeding season is not yet over, staff at the Trust are hopeful there will be more. As Sarah says: “This is wonderfully encouraging news, showing that seals are thriving on Walney Island and establishing us as north-west England’s only grey seal breeding colony.”

Cumbria Wildlife Trust started using a drone to survey seals at South Walney Nature Reserve in September, having got special permission from Natural England. Sarah explains the benefit of this form of surveying: “From traditional counts, which involve crawling across shingle and watching seals through binoculars, we had counted about 150 seals. From the drone footage we counted nearer 230 and realised we were missing a lot! It’s a great resource for us to use, although we’re continuing with our traditional counts, to compare results. It’s very important that the drone doesn’t have a negative impact on any wildlife on the island. Our staff are specially trained to fly over such a sensitive area and we monitor all wildlife during flights to ensure nothing is disturbed.”

You can see the seals and pups close up by watching the Trust’s new sealcam.

Due to the young age of the seals, they are incredibly vulnerable to disturbance. This would cause the mothers to abandon them and the pups to starve. For this reason, there is strictly no access to the area of the nature reserve where the seal pups are, and so it is not possible to view the pups at South Walney Nature Reserve. However you can see the rest of the seals playing and fishing in the water at high tide, along with thousands of wintering wildfowl and wader birds, from hides elsewhere on the nature reserve.