Each year in late October, November, and December, a colony of gray seals returns to Donna Nook, their salt marsh home, to give birth to their pups right next to the sand dunes. People from all over the United Kingdom flock to the beach’s purpose-built viewing platform to witness this annual wildlife spectacle.
The viewing area is only open during the seal pupping season and is situated at the foot of the sand dunes to minimize disturbance to the seals and maximize the safety of visitors. During this time, interpretation boards and an information hut are available on-site. Also, on hand to answer any questions is a team of committed volunteers with an encyclopedic knowledge of these seals and their natural habitat.
Every year, when the first pup is born, the Donna Nook warden makes an online announcement. Regular updates with seal numbers are posted online each week until the last remaining seal has swum out into the North Sea. An astonishing 2,066 grey seal pups were born at the reserve over approximately three months in 2018.
There’s much more to see in the area than the seals. Donna Nook National Nature Reserve, more commonly known as “Donna Nook,” is a coastal strip in North Lincolnshire, England. It stretches for more than six miles from Grainthorpe Haven in the north to Saltfleet in the south, where it borders the Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe National Nature Reserve. Sharing its name with Royal Air Force Donna Nook, a secluded bombing target range, this seal sanctuary is the only national nature reserve in the U.K. on Ministry of Defence land.
Some propose that in the 16th century, a ship named The Donna, part of the Spanish Armada fleet, sank just off the Nook, a small headland, gifting the area its rather unusual name. Others speculate the name was taken from a woman named Donna whose dead body washed up on the shore. There is no evidence to prove either of these urban myths. However, what is known for sure is that Donna Nook has gone by this name for at least 250 years.
Know Before You Go
It's free to visit although there is a charge for car parking. Strictly NO dogs allowed. The nature reserve is open all year, but the seal viewing area facilities are only open seasonally from October to December dependent on seal numbers. At peak pupping season the viewing area can get very busy so the best time to visit is early in the morning on a week day if possible to ensure the best possible experience. For further details and up to date car parking charges and locations please see the website. The Ministry of Defence still maintains part of this area as a bombing target range, so please for your own safety, do not enter the bombing area if red flags are flying.