Donna Nook – One of Greatest UK Wildlife Photography Spectacles
Donna Nook National Nature Reserve is probably the premier place in the UK to photograph Grey Seals. It lies on the east coast of England mid-way between Mablethorpe and Grimsby. It is some 20 miles away from both towns. Photographing seals from a few metres away is absolutely guaranteed.
Visit UK’s Natural “Seal Maternity Hospital”
Each year hundreds of seal pups are born just metres from the car park. The pregnant mothers haul themselves onto the dry grassy sand dunes so that their pups are born on dry land. This will happen literally just a few metres away from the public viewing area next to the car park. It is a real privilege to get so close to the mothers and babies. The area is littered with placenta left behind from the night before. The births are over in seconds. One big push and that’s it. You have to be extremely quick to capture this event on camera..
About Grey Seals
The male adult Grey Seals are some two to two and a half metres in length and are likely to weigh in excess of 300kg. The large bulls arrive here in early November in time for mating. The females, somewhat smaller, suckle their young for just three weeks before abandoning them and leaving them to fend for themselves. In this three week period the mother does not return to the sea. She survives solely from her own body fat while nursing a single cream coloured pup that will triple it’s bodyweight in that time. Quite amazing. Once this three week period is over the mothers return to the sea and are ready to mate shortly afterwards.
On the large beach area the females are herded into groups by the dominant males. Each of these males will constantly fight off any rival that encroaches into his space. These battles can be quite vicious and bloody at times. The mothers with babies must also be treated with caution. She is likely to hiss at you if you get too close, or she may roll over and wave you away with her flipper. This is a warning and it is time to back off slightly. You will undoubtedly also come across new-born seal pups on the beach, the result of the mother not making it to the grassy bank. These adorable creatures make superb photos. It is a sad fact of life that many of these will drown when the tide comes in. We cannot interfere, as once these have been touched by humans the result would be the same anyway.
Grey Seals Frolicking in the Sea
The pictures that most people want to take are of the seals playing in the sea. These subjects will be the main focus of our attention. Capturing the activities of these seals is the reason we have walked out to the water’s edge. There are some amazing opportunities here. The seals are absolutely tireless and will perform all day long. They are initially quite nervous and need to be approached very slowly and without any sudden movements. However, once you have gained their trust, they are oblivious to your presence and seem to actually enjoy putting on a show. It is here at the water’s edge that the lesser males will attempt to pair up with any females that have escaped the larger dominant males on the beach.
Photograph the Seals at Sunrise
There had to be a catch didn’t there. The very best photographs are taken at sunrise and at sunset. We meet in the car park at the unearthly hour of 7am. This gives us the opportunity to walk out to the sea and be in a position to take photos of the seals in the sea as the sun rises. The colours and reflections are superb. The walk is almost a mile long. Part of this will be through up to 4-6 inches of water and part will be through 1 inch of mud. Wellington boots are an absolute must.
Food and Clothing
It can be bitterly cold here. It is quite a walk to the sea and you are unlikely to want to return to your car and come back out again. You must therefore take gloves, hats & plenty of warm clothes with you. You can always take layers off, but you cannot add clothes that you don’t have with you. Some food and drink is also advisable. Teas and coffees will be supplied out on the sandbanks. Waterproofs are also recommended unless the weather is set fair. Many people use a two wheeled shopping bag or a converted golf buggy if they have a large amount of photo gear.
The majority of the keen photographers out here will be using 300mm to 400mm lenses most of the time. This is not absolutely necessary and you will see many people using shorter focal lengths. Something like a 75-300, 100-400 or 200-400 zoom would be ideal. You will also see professional photographers with 500mm lenses, but this is by no means a must. There will be times when a lens of this size is just too big. Sand and cameras do not mix well, so plastic bags will help if the wind blows. A tripod is absolutely essential.
One to one tuition will be provided throughout the day. This will follow a brief group session at the start of the day. All techniques used to capture the images on this website will be revealed.
Full account of tides and water levels will be assessed nearer the time. If there are no storms forecast, then the tides at this time of year do not prevent us crossing to the sandbanks, even at high tide. This was easily achieved last year. Any required modification of start times will be advised nearer the time. All crossings to the sandbanks will be done together as a group, although people will be free to choose their own locations once there.
Click here to see more Seal Photos
Avoiding Controversy at Donna Nook
Photographers on Safari do not wish to become embroiled in the current debates of what is, or what is not, the correct stance to take regarding photography of the seals from the beach area. Until somebody can come up with a workable solution, Photographers on Safari will not continue with this workshop until this situation is resolved. One thing that is 100% certain is that the seal pups’ welfare is far better now than it was in 2009 when there were far too many people on the beach area. Finding the best way to control those numbers is the problem. Photographers on Safari are currently in dialogue with the LWT in an effort to find a workable solution. Photographers on Safari certainly do not believe that publicly criticising other companies and then doing “secret seal workshops” at “secret locations” is a viable alternative.