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Take a boat trip to Blakeney Point - England’s largest seal colony

Seals loll on the shores of Blakeney Point as boat-loads of seal-spotters sail by
Seals loll on the shores of Blakeney Point as boat-loads of seal-spotters sail by

Blakeney Point’s seal colonies create picture-postcard scenes as they dip in and out of the North Sea's waters and bask on the sandy spit on North Norfolk’s coast.

The sand and shingle beach is home and the breeding ground to thousands of seals and threatened seabirds.

England’s largest colony of common and grey seals live on the Point, part of Blakeney National Nature Reserve and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

it is a very special place and a World Biosphere Reserve - one of the most important places to study nature and understand biodiversity and sustainability and one of only six in the UK.

Visitors can take boat trips all year to see the seals lolloping and lounging on the beach at Blakeney Point or swimming and diving around the boats as they slow to marvel at the throngs of seals. The seals are one of Norfolk's biggest attractions in summer.

Seals lie on the beach as a man takes a photograph
Blakeney Point is now home to thousands of seals

However, there were no grey seals until the mid-1990s. Since then, Blakeney’s grey seal colony has grown from just 25 pups born in 2001 to England's largest colony with 4,000 pups born over the winter of 2020-21.

Grey seals breed between November and January. The grey seal pups have distinctive snowy white fur and huge black eyes and the pups feed from their mothers for around three weeks, as they triple in size and shed their white fur, before heading into the sea.

Grey adult seals are the larger of the two species. Adults have speckled coats and longer pointed heads with parallel nostrils.

Common seals, who have their pups between June and August, have more rounded faces with 'V' shaped nostrils. Mating takes place soon after pupping, and male seals or bulls fight for territory.

Blakeney Point’s reserve, managed by the National Trust since 1912, is also one of the most important sites in Europe for breeding terns. Little terns return each year along with Sandwich, Arctic and Common terns arriving from West Africa in their thousands from March until late August.

Little terns, known in Norfolk as ‘little pickies’ because of the way they dive into the water to pick fish out of the sea with their bills, are Britain’s smallest seabird, and a rare and declining species. They are less than 25 cm long and weigh about the same as a tennis ball yet migrate more than 3,000 miles {5,000 km) to winter in Africa.

Britain’s breeding population has declined by a quarter in the last 40 years and this is not helped by them laying their highly camourflaged eggs on the sand and shingle where they can be disturbed by people, dogs, and other predators such as gulls, or washed away by a high tide.

There are many other birds to see on the shore or on the wing including Oyster Catcher, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone as well as a variety of duck and geese in the winter.

One-hour boat trips run all year round departing from Morston quay to Blakeney Point. They give visitors the best view and a chance to get close to see, hear and photograph large numbers of seals at the end of the four-mile spit.

It is not possible to walk to see the seals on Blakeney Point.

Booking a trip on the locally operated boats is the best way to see the seals without disturbing them or the birds on the nature reserve. The western end of Blakeney Point is closed to visitor access at all times. Seals are wild animals and can be extremely vicious. One bite would mean immediate hospital treatment.

A seal pops up by the edge of the boat
Curious seals watch trippers. Credit: Matt Bannister

The seal trips are popular so booking is essential. Boats leave at different times every day according to the tide. Parking at Morston Quay - less than two miles west of Blakeney - is free to all National Trust members but non-members will have to pay.

Four local families from Blakeney and Morston run a fleet of daily boat trips to the Point, where one can see the former Lifeboat station with its distinctive blue colours which is now a National Trust visitor centre and can be reached on foot from Cley beach.

Rangers based here work with volunteers during the breeding season each year to help the birds breed successfully. They also put fencing in place to protect the seals and visitors.

Beans Boats has been operating out of Blakeney Harbour for more than 80 years and has five boats sailing from Morston.

Bishops Boats, in business since 1965, runs two traditional purpose-built clinker wooden boats from Morston and one smaller boat which can run from Blakeney quay, depending on the tides.

Ptarmigan, run by Mike Girling with his crew in distinctive bright pink outfits, has a traditional clinker-built ferry boat which can take up to 46 visitors.

Temples seal trips have been taking tourists to Blakeney Point for more than 60 years. Virtually all members of the Temple family are involved in the business as skipper, crew, handling bookings, ticket sales and helping customers to board their three boats.

There's a lot to see on a boat trip - so take binoculars and cameras and dress for being on the water where it can be cooler and wet if spray comes over the boat.

There is a good three-mile walk on soft shingle from the Cley beach car park to Blakeney Point. There are no facilities at the end of the walk and the most western end of the Point is fenced off. Never cross a fence line and follow all signs you come across.

No visit to North Norfolk is complete without a trip to see the seals and terns on Blakeney Point.

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