Three years in a row now we have been going to see the grey seals and their pups at Donna Nook Nature Reserve in Lincolnshire. There aren’t many places in the UK where the seals go to in such great numbers. Donna Nook is one of only 10 places and is a seal watching paradise. Most years there are around 3,000+ seals on the beach which includes bulls, cows and pups. Last year nearly 2,000 pups were born at Donna Nook.
Up to Date Information – When to go to see the Seals
If you want to visit and are looking for up to date information this is a great Facebook group to join. They do a seal count every weekend and post it on the page. Plus lots of group members share their photos, videos and advice.
The cows visit the beach in winter to give birth to their pups and the bulls go there to try their luck again. The seal population is at its peak around the last week in November. This is when we have visited for the past two years. This year, however, we went a bit earlier and there didn’t seem any less in numbers to me than before. You can visit Donna Nook at any time of the day…and night!
I also preferred our visit the second weekend in November to the last because the pups were a lot smaller and fluffier than before.
Where to park at Donna Nook Nature Reserve
They do have a car park with disability access via a well-surfaced path. There is, however, a limited amount of disabled parking spaces. Parking is free and there are toilets and a catering van during the season. We tried to park here in 2015 and 2016 but failed. So this year we headed straight to the overflow car park. You have to pay £2 to park here but the parking area is big, there are some toilets and another catering van. Plus I quite like the walk up the sand dunes to get to the seals from here. This has no disabled access. – UPDATE – In 2018 they are now charging £5.00 to park a car at Donna Nook
What can you expect from a trip to Donna Nook
The one thing that will strike you when you arrive is the noise. The sound of seals is quite haunting. almost like a spooky ghostly noise. Sometimes they are very noisy, especially when the bulls are fighting. My trouble is I can’t tell the difference between a cow and a bull. Yes, the bulls are a lot bigger but the cows can look rather big themselves when still pregnant.
You may witness a live birth or at least a lot of placentas. Yes, it’s true, that’s what they are here for after all. This year was the first time Jamie noticed it and I then had to give him a little, not too graphic, biology lesson. He was quite disturbed last year watching a video of a seal giving birth in their little information centre. Luckily that wasn’t there this year, nor did we witness any live births.
Is there a quiet time to visit Donna Nook?
Possibly not. The seals attract people young and old so weekdays can be just as busy at weekends. We arrived early at 10 am and it was already getting quite busy but no way near as busy than at 11:30 am when we left. The cars were literally flooding in by then. The pathway alongside the seals had also started to clog up considerably.
If you go early in the season, say early November, it will be a lot quieter. However, there won’t be anywhere near as many seals as there is come late November. The same goes for late December as some of the seals have headed back to sea by then.
How close will the seals be?
Most of the seals are a few feet away. However, some Mum’s give birth very close to the fence and then their pups often lie alongside the fence. The pups are very inquisitive and watch and sometimes respond to the sound of humans. The cows often don’t like this and the wardens are usually somewhere nearby to make sure they don’t get too upset by our presence.
You can see in this photo of Jamie taking a photo of a pup that was literally in front of him.
Tips for Visiting Donna Nook
If you want it as quiet as you can but still with lots of seals then visit around 9 am or 4 pm.
Stay behind the fence at all times and whatever you do don’t touch any seals. The parents are aggressive as they are being protective and the baby pups must never be touched by humans or else their Mum’s may reject them. The same applies to food, never feed them.
No dogs are allowed.
Don’t be alarmed if you hear loud noises other than the seals. The military of defence use the area nearby as a bombing range. So please don’t stray away from the areas near the two car parks. Observe the areas marked by red flags, don’t venture past.
Don’t forget your camera. Donna Nook is one of the main reasons that I invested in a good zoom lens. They make such great photographs. One minute you’re looking at cute seals, the next loving moments between cow and pup and the next two males fighting.
Other Things to Note
They have quite a few interesting signs to read dotted along the path. Some have flaps to lift for the kids and there are a few photo opportunities as well. We moved a lot slower this year than last so there was a chance to read some of them. Did you know that pups only suckle from their Mum’s for 3 weeks? After that, they’re on their own. The whole time we were there we didn’t spot one single pup having some milk. Once they have given birth the bulls mate with the cows again and they then have an incredible 11.5 months gestation. This does include a 3-month delay in the implantation of a fertilised egg, but even so!
Have you ever been? Have you visited any other seal colonies in the UK? We’d love to hear. Please comment below.
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