'It's magical' - Woman finds bliss among the seals

Hanne Siebers, volunteer seal warden at Blakeney Point, and some of the many stunning images she has captured of the creatures. 

Hanne Siebers, volunteer seal warden at Blakeney Point, and some of the many stunning images she has captured of the creatures. - Credit: Klausbernd Vollmar/Hanne Siebers

With their flippers, whiskers, grunting and galumphing, seals are among the world's most curious creatures. Reporter STUART ANDERSON spoke to a woman  who has found paradise among Norfolk's semi-aquatic wonders. 

Watching grey seals' frolics and fights has been a constant fascination for 62-year-old Hanne Siebers, who has been a volunteer seal warden for the National Trust at Blakeney Point since 2018.

“I’ve never felt so strongly for a piece of land as for Blakeney Point, it’s bliss being out there,” she said. “It must be one of the best wildlife experiences in the UK.”

A bull seal, with scars from fighting, at Blakeney Point. 

A bull seal, with scars from fighting, at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

Originally from Norway, Mrs Siebers lived in Germany for 30 years and worked as a nurse, before moving to the UK. After retiring, she found her spiritual home under the big skies of the north Norfolk coast, and now lives in Cley.

Along with three other wardens she shares a shift with, her role involves giving advice and information to visitors - of which there were naturally many more of before the pandemic - and making sure the area is safe for both animals and people.


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“You should never walk between a cow and a pup,” she said. “They are very protective and they can be dangerous.”

Hanne Siebers said she had loved her role as a volunteer National Trust property photographer at Blakeney Point.

Hanne Siebers said she had loved her role as a volunteer National Trust seal warden and property photographer at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Frederic Landes

Mrs Siebers has also been a little tern warden, and has been appointed a National Trust property photographer, giving her the chance to document the grey seal pupping season.

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Lasting from October to January, the season turns Blakeney into Britain’s largest seal colony, becoming home to more than 10,000 grey seal cows, pups and bulls.

Mrs Siebers described the start of the pupping season as exhilarating. 

Two grey seals fighting, with a pup in the foreground, at Blakeney Point on the north Norfolk coast.

Two grey seals fighting, with a pup in the foreground, at Blakeney Point on the north Norfolk coast. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

“One day there’s one seal there, the next day a few more, and then suddenly there’s a mass exodus from all over the North Sea and there are thousands of of seals,” she said.

“It’s absolutely magic to be amongst these animals - it has given me the happiest hours of this winter.
“The most sought-after area is the outer point. It’s a no-go area for visitors and it’s where the most dramatic scenes take place. It’s where the bulls fight for territory and chase each other away.”

Mrs Siebers said that while fighting bulls regularly ended up with cuts and scars, they were usually protected from serious harm by their blubber.

Seals mating at Blakeney Point. 

Seals mating at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

“They really are magnificent,” she said. “They’re great characters and each one is different.”

Mrs Siebers has even got names for some seals she has seen more than once. “I have a Mr Sore Eye. He has a crushed eye from fighting, and I also know another cow with a crushed eye.
“I have a real soft spot for them, but they can cope well with one eye, and luckily they have no enemies on Blakeney Point.”

Mrs Siebers said nothing broke her heart more than seeing a seal in pain with a plastic ring or other object caught around its neck. 

A grey seal bull at Blakeney Point. 

A grey seal bull at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

“Because they are in a colony, in a big group, we cannot go in and try and do something,” she said. “That would disturb the whole group and they would probably crush the pups to death. It’s really sad to see.” 

Grey seals pup right around the British coastline, starting in Cornwall in August, then moving to Wales and Scotland as the year progresses and finally down the east coast to Blakeney, which is a special haven for the creatures. 

A grey seal cow frolicking in the water at Blakeney Point.

A grey seal cow frolicking in the water at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers



Mrs Siebers said: “Many of these places are very rocky so when there is a high tide or a storm they are threatened, and they can be taken by the water and can’t survive. 
“That’s what’s so unique about Blakeney Point, they can come further inland. A couple of days ago I saw seal pups in the side arms of the River Glaven, bobbing around.”

Every year more and more grey seals come for the pupping season at Blakeney Point.

Every year more and more grey seals come for the pupping season at Blakeney Point. Over the 2019-2020 season there were around 4,000 cows, most of which would have given birth to a single pup. There are not as many bulls as cows, so Mrs Siebers said the total population would have been around 10,000-11,000. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

Mrs Siebers said she was already looking forward to the next pupping season. In the meantime, she has a new project, working with author and botanist Richard Porter to catalogue and photograph all of the plants at Blakeney Point. 

“I’m very happy to have this project. It’s a unique habitat and there are some very rare plants out there.”

A just-born grey seal at Blakeny Point. 

A just-born grey seal at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

Seals at Blakeney Point, which is Britain's largest grey seal colony. 

Seals at Blakeney Point, which is Britain's largest grey seal colony. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

Hanne Siebers, who has been a volunteer seal warden, little tern warden and property photographer at the National Trust's Blakeney Point site. 

Hanne Siebers, who has been a volunteer seal warden, little tern warden and property photographer at the National Trust's Blakeney Point site. - Credit: Klausbernd Vollmar

A grey seal cow and pup at Blakeney Point. 

A grey seal cow and pup at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

A grey seal cow and pup at Blakeney Point. 

A grey seal cow and pup at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

Two grey seal bulls having a disagreement at Blakeney Point. 

Two grey seal bulls having a disagreement at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

A melanistic black-coated grey seal at Blakeney Point.

A melanistic black-coated grey seal at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

Seals on the beach at Blakeney Point. 

Seals on the beach at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Seals on the beach at Blakeney Point. 

A winter sunset behind the lifeboat house at Blakeney Point.

A winter sunset behind the lifeboat house at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

A grey seal, with a piece of plastic waste caught around its neck. 

A grey seal, with a piece of plastic waste caught around its neck. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

Blakeney Point becomes Britain's largest grey seal colony over winter. 

Blakeney Point becomes Britain's largest grey seal colony over winter. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

A grey seal at Blakeney Point.

A grey seal at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers

A grey seal pup at Blakeney Point. 

A grey seal pup at Blakeney Point. - Credit: Hanne Siebers


 

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