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Seal colony settles at Orford Ness – Suffolk’s former military weapons testing site





The establishment of a grey seal colony at a former Cold War weapons testing site has been hailed as a Suffolk success story.

This comes after 130 grey seal pubs were born at Orford Ness this winter, making it the third consecutive year breeding has taken place at the coastal site.

It is thought the animals have used the former military site as a breeding ground every year since 2021 due to the reduction of visitors following the pandemic.

A colony of grey seals have settled at a former Cold War military weapons testing site. Picture: Andew Capell
A colony of grey seals have settled at a former Cold War military weapons testing site. Picture: Andew Capell

Although grey seals can often be spotted in Suffolk waters, this is believed to be the county’s first breeding colony.

Matt Wilson, countryside manager for the National Trust’s Suffolk and Essex Coast portfolio, said rangers have been carrying out weekly seal counts since the start of October, with numbers averaging from 250 to 500.

He believes part of the reason the mammals stayed at the site was due to a lack of disturbance.

They have been kept a secret since they were first spotted at Orford Ness in 2021. Picture: Andew Capell
They have been kept a secret since they were first spotted at Orford Ness in 2021. Picture: Andew Capell
Picture: Andew Capell
Picture: Andew Capell

“Since the seals’ arrival in 2021, our team of volunteers and staff have monitored the seals from a distance, keeping the growing seal colony a secret,” said Matt.

“This has helped to keep these vulnerable wild animals protected at a crucial stage of their development.

“However, the colony has now grown to a size where we can’t keep them secret anymore, and we want to share this amazing wildlife story with our supporters.”

It is thought to be Suffolk's first breeding colony. Picture: Andew Capell
It is thought to be Suffolk's first breeding colony. Picture: Andew Capell
Over 130 grey seal pups were born this winter. Picture: Andew Capell
Over 130 grey seal pups were born this winter. Picture: Andew Capell

Female grey seals, known as cows, can live 30 to 35 years and have their first pup between the age of three to five. They usually return to the same place each year to give birth.

Males live for about 20 to 25 years.

The breeding season for grey seals runs from October to March, which is when Orford Ness is closed to visitors, and as a result any disturbance has been kept to a minimum.

However, people have been warned to refrain from visiting out of season to help protect the colony.

Glen Pearce, Orford Ness’ property operations manager, added: “It's important people remember that unauthorised access, by foot, boat or drone, is not only illegal but also dangerous because of the unique and remote nature of the former military site.”