â€œ For much of the year grey seals at the Lincolnshire Wildlife TrustsÂ’ Donna Nook National Nature Reserve are at sea or hauled out on distant sandbanks. Every November and December, the seals give birth to their pups near the sand dunes: a wildlife spectacle which attracts visitors from across the UK. â€ž
~What and where is Donna Nook~
Donna Nook is a salt marsh beach and is used as an RAF bombing range. What makes the area special is during the months of October, November and December a grey seal colony comes to the beach for breeding with the cows giving birth to the pups near to the sand dunes.
It is located about 20 miles south of Cleethorpes and about 13 miles north of Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire Coast.
(These directions are not necessarily the most direct way, however they are the more major roads as most of the roads in the area are country lanes.)
The nearest major road to get to Donna Nook is the A16 which you can follow until you get to North Thoresby, from North Thoresby follow signs to North Somercotes , you will travel through North Coates, Marshchapel, Grainsthorpe and Conisholme until you get to North Somercotes. From North Somercotes (A1031) turn onto Jubilee Road(signposted RAF Donna Nook), at the end of Jubilee Road take a right onto Cemetery Road and then the first left onto Marsh Lane. As you travel down Marsh Lane it does become narrower (just as you go past Ark Road on the right) so that it is single file traffic however there are a few passing points situated down the road. There are large signs as you approach warning you to ignore the directions given by your SatNav and follow the signs that have been put up.
There are two car parks at Donna Nook, one operated by the local authority and another privately operated overflow car park. As we visited at the weekend we parked in the overflow car park, which cost Â£1. The overflow car park is just a farmer's field, so if it's been particularly wet it could get quite boggy. Fortunately it had been fairly dry when we visited so this wasn't a problem. From previous visits I know that the main car park is concreted with parking bays marked out. I can't remember if there are any charges to use this car park though.
In the overflow car park there were some Portaloos and a burger van. There was also someone selling fresh vegetables for a reasonable price. We didn't use any of the facilities while we were there so I can't comment on them, although the bacon did smell nice as walked past.
~Getting to the seals~
In order to get to the beach from the car park we had to climb up some sand dunes, there were footpaths trodden into the grass where people had been previously. In some places the dunes were quite steep so young children or people with mobility issues may struggle with them. I would say that it would not be suitable for wheelchair users or people with prams/ pushchairs. I think access might be easier from the Stonebridge car park, as I seem to remember there is a better path to the beach from here. Once you have got over the dunes, there is a footpath at the top of the beach; this is fenced off to prevent the public accessing the beach and getting too close to the seals and their pups.
Along the viewing area there are some information points which tell you a little more about the seals, their behaviour and calls. There are also some sheds which are used by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and The Seal Sanctuary, here you can ask more about the seals, join the Trust and I believe they have a few seal related knick knacks on sale in them which I'm sure younger children would be eager to spend their (or your) money on.
~See the seals~
We visited around midday and there were plenty of adult seals on the beach, I was amazed at how close they get to the viewing area and they didn't seem fazed by people watching them at all. While we were there one of the bulls was heading towards one of the channels of water in the marsh which was right in front of where everyone was stood. Even though it was quite early in the breeding season when we visited we were very lucky to see some pups with their mums on the beach. Of course these didn't get quite as close as the adults without pups but we still got a very good view of them. It was really lovely listening to the pups call out to their mums - it really sounds like they are saying muuuuuum muuuuuum. This is probably as close as you will ever get to grey seals in the wild and as an animal lover I cannot put into words how amazing it is to be able to get so near to them and watch them in their own habitat.
Being on the East Coast of England if you're visiting to get a look at the seals, then you're going to be there in winter time so wrap up warm - hat, gloves and scarf are recommended to protect against the bracing wind.
Although there were quite a few seals near to the viewing area there were some which were a lot further out, so if you have a set of binoculars it would be well worth taking them with you to get a really good luck at them all.
The Wildlife Trust ask if possible to visit during the week, as it can get really busy at weekends which can be a bit hectic on the narrow lanes leading up to the beach.
Don't forget your camera - this is a fantastic photo opportunity.
~What else is there to do?~
Well nearby are the seaside towns of Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe and Skegness although visiting them in winter isn't my idea of fun.
The historic market town of Louth is around 13 miles away, with markets taking place on a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and a Farmer's market on the 4th Wednesday and 2nd Friday of the month if you fancy doing a bit of shopping.