If you want to come seal watching in Norfolk and in particular, you want to see baby seals, then Horsey and Winterton beaches are the place to come.
Visiting the seal colony at Horsey, especially when the seals have their babies in the winter in an amazing site. Last year 2034 fluffy white seal pups were born on the beach at Horsey. It’s one of the highlights of Norfolk’s seasonal wildlife calendar and a must see if you are visiting the Norfolk Coast this year. Beware that it can be very windy on the coast so wrap up warm. It is magical to see these animals but they are vulnerable to disturbance from people and their dogs so please keep at least a 15 meter distance.
About the seals at Horsey
Around half the world’s grey seal population is found in Britain. They are a protected species and come onto the beach at Horsey, to have their babies and breed. It is magical to see these animals but they are vulnerable to disturbance from people and their dogs.
The females come to the beach and have their babies about a day after they arrive. Their babies have a beautiful white woolly coat which is not waterproof. Staying on shore, for the first 17 days or so, they are fed milk by their mums putting on as much as 2kg per day. Within 3 weeks the mum has weaned her pup and she abandons it to live off its blubber and loose it’s coat, known as molting. Once they get their waterproof coats, driven by hunger, these brave little pups go into the sea and teach themselves to catch fish. Over 50% of the pups don’t survive their first year.
After the females have weaned their pups they mate. One dominant bull (male seal) may mate with up to 20 females. Seals are territorial – if they are disturbed and have to move they and their pups are in danger from other aggressive males. Likewise, if humans approach too close to babies their Mums may abandon them. The dark brown or grey males are distinguishable from the females who tend to be tanned and more mottled in colour. Males live to around 25 years and females to around 35 years.
Seeing the seals at Horsey
There are two species of seal at Horsey. The Harbour seal and the Grey seal. The main way to tell the difference is their faces – they consider harbour seals to be cuter with heart-shaped nostrils. Grey seals have more roman noses. Another key difference between the species is their babies. Harbour seals have their babies in the summer. They can swim as soon as they are born. The grey seals have their babies between Nov and January on the beaches so it’s these little fellas you will see in large numbers. This cute little film is a great introduction to the seal colony at Horsey.
Grey seal facts
- Around 40% of the world’s grey seal population live in Britain.
- They are a protected species
- The seal colony at Horsey is growing. Over 1500 babies were born here last year
- They smell terrible
- The females arrive on the beach and have their babies about a day later.
- Their babies have a beautiful white woolly coat which is not waterproof. They must not go back into the sea. If they do they may well die of exposure
- Staying on shore, for the first 17 days or so, they are fed milk by their mums putting on as much as 2kg per day. Ideally they feed 6 times a day, consuming 2.5 litres of milk per day.
- Within 3 weeks the mum has weaned her pup, and she abandons it to live off its blubber. During this period the baby loses its coat, known as moulting.
- Once they get their waterproof coats, driven by hunger, these brave little pups go into the sea and teach themselves to catch fish.
- Over 50% of the pups don’t survive their first year.
- After the females have weaned their pups they mate.
- Males live to around 25 years and females to around 35 years. Females are smaller
- One dominant bull (male seal) may mate with up to 20 females.
- About 60% of a grey seals time is spent at sea. They can dive to 70m usually for 5 to 10 minutes. Though they can stay submerged for up to 20 minutes.
- Between February and April around 2000 seals come out of the sea to moult.
Theories as to why the seal colony is growing in Horsey and Winterton vary but many think it is because of the offshore wind turbines creating habitat for young fish, thus increasing fish availability others think it Is a result of climate change as the seals move south from Scotland.
How to reach the seal colony?
For a short walk
Park at Horsey Gap car park which costs £3 for 2 hours. It is a 10 minute walk to the nearest viewing platform. Beware there are no toilets but is a good option if you have young children or elderly folk with you. The nearest toilet and coffee stop is the delightful Poppylands on the main road. To get an idea of what it is like at Horsey check out this lovely little film by mummy blogger and explorer ‘baby routes’.
You can also park at the National Trust wind pump at Horsey and walk to the seals via the Nelson head pub. This is about a 3 mile walk.
For an alternative, shorter walk, park at the Nelson. You can follow a track to the beach, this is a 1.5/2 mile return walk. You can do this with a push chair, just about, but there is a stile to get over. The good food and roaring fire at the pub is always welcome upon your return.
If you are staying in Winterton or with us at Mill Farm Eco Barn you can probably see babies on the beach or hidden in the dunes. The seal wardens will direct you to the best place to safely see the babies. You can also walk to Horsey. It’s a 7.5km return walk, taking in the Nelson Head pub. See walk 5 of our walking guide. Please keep dogs on the lead. Seal bites can prove fatal to a dog.
It can be very windy on the coast so wrap up warm, particularly if you are doing the walk from the car park with young kids. I once met a Mum with a portable water colour kit viewing the seals – their children happily painted a quick water colour of the seals to add to their experience – genius!
Friends of Horsey Seals
The Friends of Horsey Seals is a wonderful organisation, run by volunteers, who help protect these beautiful mammals.
They ask visitors to observe the following code when they visit the seals:
- Stay a good distance away from the seals. At least 15 meters away.
- Look out for seals in the dunes and give them a wide berth.
- Keep dogs on a lead and be careful – seals have a nasty bite.
- Keep to the marked viewing areas and respect the fencing.
- Remember that they are wild animals and should not be approached!
Want somewhere to stay?
If you would like to come and see these seals we offer 2 beautiful Eco Barns in the neighbouring village of Winterton on sea. They sleep 8 and 2 and can be booked for the weekend. Check our availability here.