John Whittles Wildlife

Wildlife Photography Locations

Donna Nook Seal Sanctuary, Linconshire

Donna Nook is an RAF bombing range in Lincolnshire and in November and December each year, grey seals come ashore to give birth and mate. Many females come right up to the dunes and deliver their pups very close to the fence that separates the beach from the viewing area. This viewing area is open seven days a week and it is possible to get good photographs from here. This is the place if you have small children.

At weekends and bank holidays, the bombing range is not operating and it is possible to walk out a mile or so across the mud flats to see the seals on the sandbanks and playing in the surf. Look out for red warning flags. Access is prohibited when these are flying.

It's wet and muddy and can be very cold but the rewards are worth it. It is possible to approach very close to the animals and photograph them from their own eye level.

Type “donna nook” in Google and you will find a number of good sites with a host of information. I recommend Stephen Street’s excellent site “Photographing Grey Seals at Donna Nook”. This has a lot of valuable information and advice for photographers (see links).

Although it is possible to approach to the seals, I prefer using a telephoto lens. This isolates the subject, useful when there a lot of seals about, but more importantly it respects the personal space of the animal. Just because an animal tolerates your presence, it does not mean that it is comfortable with it. You will always get more natural photographs if the animal is not stressed.

It is a good idea to take something to carry your equipment, and rest it on clear of the wet sand. I used a sand-sledge that provided a very stable platform and also doubled as a seat. It was however rather cumbersome, and on the second day I used a tripod. I was very impressed with a German made trolley called a” Beach Roly”. It carries a good weight and volume of equipment and also can be used as a seat. I intend to get one.

The seal pups have a huge amount of “ah” factor and you will want to spend time with them. It is difficult to believe that in just three weeks they will be abandoned to fend for themselves. Do allow time to go down to the water’s edge to photograph the juveniles playing in the surf. These provide the action shots that add balance to the portfolio.

Keep an eye on the horizons, as the sandbanks can be misleading. It is easy to loose track of the background when the subject is so interesting. I had to resort to Photoshop “straighten horizons” more that once.

Remember to wrap up warm, as the East Coast can be very inhospitable. When I was there it was surprisingly warm but it is easier to remove layers than trek back to the car park for extra clothing. Wellington boots are a must.

Keep a close eye on the tides. Tide tables should be posted at the entrance but I would advise downloading your own copy from the web. You want low tide to coincide with the best light conditions and checking the tables in advance will help you to plan your trip. Remember that if there is a sea running the water levels may be higher than stated in the tables. Go out when the tide is falling so you can do most of your work in the hour or two before low tide. Low tide is the best time but once it has turned the sea comes in quickly, particularly on the far side of the main bank.

I went to the water’s edge to tell a companion that the tide had turned. He was on a slightly raised bank but the water was coming in behind him. When I crossed back, the water just covered the foot of my boot. He took his last shots and followed me five minutes later. The water almost came over the top of his wellies. The last man across was two or three minutes later and got very wet, the water coming half way up his thighs.

Take food and water but go easy on the liquid, as there is no cover. The mobile café in the car park was selling delicious roast beef and pork rolls.

I stayed at a very good organic B & B about two miles away (see links).