Photographer:Jo Davenport
Continent: Europe
Country: United Kingdom
Project Title: Guardians of Horsey Gap
Project Continent: Europe
Project Country: United Kingdom
Nominated By: Esther Horvath
Seconded By: Silke Hullmann,

The United Kingdom is home to more than 40% of the world’s grey seal population, making it a crucial breeding area for the species.

Historically birthing colonies were largely limited to northern, remote isles. But in recent years they have spread dramatically along the Eastern coastline, staying ashore in their thousands to birth and mate, on land long-populated by humans.

This brings new challenges for the seals: (i) navigating unnatural landscapes; (ii) close contact with humans and dogs, which can result in pup abandonment and mortality; and (iii) entanglement in human litter and fishing gear.

This series showcases the extraordinary work of the seal wardens of Horsey Gap, Norfolk, who volunteer their time to protect the seals, educate enthusiastic human visitors, and monitor the population growth year-by-year.

This newborn seal pup was discovered alone and exploring a carpark far from their usual nursery in the sand dunes

Unusually high tides had likely washed away this pup s unique scent making it almost impossible for their mother to relocate them in the carpark

In command from a hut on the edge of the dunes duty warden Tony Chapman manages the volunteers spread along the coastline during seal pupping season

This pup was gently shepherded back to safety by wardens showing exhaustion mixed with fear and curiosity as they gradually heaved their way back toward the dunes

Unfortunately despite the intervention of wardens in moving the pup back into the dunes they were unable to survive for more than a few days without their mother s milk

Heading out at sunrise twice a week a team of volunteers hike the coastline counting each individual newborn pup and adult seal

The data collected by the team of volunteer seal counters feeds into grey seal population studies led by researchers at the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews University

With the seal population at Horsey Gap growing year-on-year the wardens install temporary fences in the sand dunes aimed at keeping humans a safe distance from the colony

As one of the UK s largest mammals the seal birthing colony draws more and more visitors each year keen to see the spectacle of thousands of individuals

With the wardens support the hope is that the colony will continue to thrive at Horsey Gap with fences like this keeping out the humans not seals