We gathered as a small group of enthusiastic nature lovers in Morthoe village car park on a warm and sunny July day, looking forward to witnessing the beautiful wildlife and Grey Seals that inhabit this part of the North Devon coastline. We set off with our binoculars and cameras after meeting with our host, Dave Jenkins, a local marine mammal expert. Dave is very informed about the history of the local area and is eager to impart his excellent knowledge of the wildlife that can be found in this lovely stretch of coastline, having spent his entire life in Morthoe village and the surrounding area.
We walked up the hill from the car park to the village cemetery, which boasts breath-taking views of the sea. After then, it’s on to Morte Point, now owned by the National Trust. It is open to the public for walking, bird watching, and taking in the spectacular views. As a way of maintaining this unique habitat of coastal moorland, the National trust has introduced sheep and Galloway Cattle grazing at certain times of the year to keep the grass and shrubs in check, so be aware that if you want to bring your dogs walking with you, they must be kept on the lead at all times for the safety of livestock and wildlife.
As we walked in the direction of the east side of the point, Dave was sure to point out any unusual plants that may be of interest, like this parasitic Dodder plant which is found on the Gorse bushes that cover Morte point. Being a member of the bindweed family Dodder relies upon other plants host for food, it has no chlorophyll so can not make its own food through photosynthesis and is therefore not green in colour.
As we made it over to the path on the far side of the point, we could see all the way to Bull point light house, an old lighthouse structure originally built in 1879 that was then automated in 1975.
Near to the furthest part of the point, we gathered on the soft sloping grass just off the path, directed by Dave to sit and look down towards the rocks at the water’s edge where we spotted at least seven grey Atlantic Seals. At this time of year groups of pregnant females can be found sunning themselves on the rocks, watching out for intrigued onlookers like us that had come along to see them in their natural habitat. As Dave made a point of saying, it is extremely important to make sure that you go about wildlife and seal watching with respect and make sure that you maintain your distance so as not to disturb the animals. The sunbathing seals seemed quite at ease with us watching them from a safe distance above, although I’m sure they were well aware of our presence and are probably fairly used to a certain human presence at this time of year, with there being lots of walkers and wildlife boat rides approaching this area to catch sight of them.
The female’s gestation period is 11 months, and they usually give birth between the months of July to November. The group at Morte point were all heavily pregnant waiting out their pregnancy in the safety of the inaccessible rocks at the bottom of the point before they travel over to the more remote beaches of Wales or Cornwall to give birth.
If you are around this area and wanting to learn more about the grey seals and other wildlife that inhabit this stunning coastline, I would definitely recommend booking on to one of Dave’s wildlife walks through the Braunton Countryside Centre. I learnt a lot about these incredible creatures from Dave’s knowledge and passion for wildlife that inspired me to learn more about wildlife in my local area and share this little write up to encourage others to do the same.
By Jess Giblett
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