The Seventh Seal (Farne Islands)

_pw_8785One of the problems about shooting wildlife, especially photogenic, entertaining, or threatening wildlife, is that you just don’t know when to stop.  You shoot dozens of images in case this expression is better than the last, or that the beast in question is more in focus, looks more powerful, and so on.  I learnt this when I visited Norfolk last year, or rather I should have.  Instead the big brown eyes and dripping whiskers got me every time; so there was lots of editing when I returned.

The grey seal population of the Farne Islands is about 6000 strong, and is carefully managed by the National Trust who have stewardship of the islands as they do at Blakeney, (both Blakeney and the Farnes have witnessed record seal pup births in recent years).  In the past they have resorted to culling to keep the numbers down, but public outcry has seen the practice banned except in special circumstance to protect fish stocks or fishing equipment.   Salmon fishermen see the seals as a threat to their livelihoods and so there are still controversial kills taking place along our coasts as seals are shot, though the evidence of their impact on fish populations is unclear.

The issue is far more contentious in other nations however, particularly nearer the Arctic Circle where indigenous peoples such as Inuit and Sami have long traditions of seal hunting.  Based on the ease with which I can capture then with my camera, I can’t imagine that they are challenging animals for the hunter.

The boatloads of people I have joined in my trips around the Farnes and Blakeney point demonstrate how a living seal can contribute to local economies, so tradition aside it must be a difficult call as to whether they are a cost or a benefit in purely economic terms, though I’m not for a moment suggesting that this should ever be the sole criterion for assessing the worth of any living creature.  To these eyes they’re always a welcome sight, which is strange really given their binomial name – halichoerus grypus.  It means “hook-nosed sea pig”!  _pw_8850

I get the pig reference; basking on rocks and mud flats they share a fatty rotundity with the porcine beasts, but really?  Whoever gave them that name clearly wasn’t a fan.

Perhaps a salmon fisherman?_pw_8678




Approval (Write your own pun)

And so to my last hours in East Anglia.

With a meeting in the North East that seemed important I couldn’t spare another full day here, so decided to head for the North Norfolk coast road once again.  Disappointingly you don’t see much of the sea; the area being so flat that any obstruction by buildings, bushes or trees is enough to take away the view.  Even the natural beauty by the road is a fleeting pleasure as there are few places to stop and explore.

I headed for Morston thinking I might have a stroll around the area before returning to County Durham at which point I realised I should have done more research.  The bulk of the Blakeney Point Nature Reserve was away to my right, or rather access was.  The reserve is rather like Orfordness in reverse, a long peninsula that divides river from sea.  Before me was the river and folk who had come prepared for watersports, which I had not.

I was weighing up the options of driving to a better vantage point or making do with what I had when a man in orange ran past me and asked if I was going on a seal trip.  “No.”  I replied, “But I’d like to!”.

And so a couple of minutes later I and a couple of dozen others were making our way towards the mouth of the estuary in search of colonies of grey and common seals.   I realised immediately that I had just boarded a craft with no shelter, under ominously greying skies and with no waterproof.  Was it a good omen that the skylarks were still aloft?APW_5191

As our journey continued we were joined by terns.  Sandwich terns, common terns, arctic terns and little terns are all nesting in the area.  Perhaps it was as well that Storm Petrels don’t colonise these parts.

And then we reached the sand banks that were our main objective and all thoughts of the weather were forgotten.  Fat and lazy with an odour of fish they nevertheless charmed everyone aboard and we had lots of time to photograph them before our boat returned to shore and beat the rain.  I don’t think we would have cared anyway.APW_5232