Grey seal - Neil AldridgeGrey seal - Neil Aldridge

On the beautiful North-Eastern coast of Lincolnshire sits Donna Nook nature reserve. Here wildlife has learnt to coincide with human activity. Not only is it an RAF practice bombing area, but it is also home to the UKs largest breeding grey seal colony. For much of the year the seals are at sea or hauled out on distant sandbanks, but during the winter they come to breed near the dunes at Donna Nook. It may sound odd, but the RAF bombing range restricts public access, providing the seals with a relatively disturbance free home. As for the planes, the seals are not the least bit concerned . Grey seals spend two thirds of their time out at sea, hunting and feeding. Adults eat about 11 lb of fish a day each. Off the Lincolnshire coast, seals feed on Dover sole and sand eels, which can be found laying on and buried within the sandy seabed within this region. Seals are however opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever is the most plentiful.

Moving south along the North Sea, the seabed becomes shallower and changes from rocky reef to a finer, siltier sandy/gravelly consistency. Changes in sediment type greatly affect the types species that occur within a region. Here we see fewer creatures living attached to the seabed and more buried within it. A good example of this is seen in the Wash, an area of extensive mud and sand flats, containing dense beds of buried bivalves (molluscs with two part shells), such as cockles and mussels. Beaches along this region can be found littered with oysters, cockles and razor shells, examples of life adapted to living buried within sand. Within the stonier areas of seabed, large numbers of starfish, lobsters and crabs can be found.

A key feature of this region from the Lincolnshire to the Essex boundary are the presence of sole nurseries.

Sole Nurseries

Sole is a flatfish found on sandy and muddy seabeds and estuarine habitats. It can be found in depths of 1-70 metres but during the winter they move offshore and can be found in waters as deep as 120 metres. It, like other flatfish, can vary in colour to suit its surroundings. It varies between grey, reddish brown and grey brown with dark blotches across its body. Female soles lay up to 500,000 eggs every year which drift in the water until the young reach a length of 12-15 mm. Few eggs survive each year, and those that make it then spend their early life sheltered in estuaries and inlets. Gently shelving mudflats, sandy beaches, saltmarshes, creeks and sandy, gravelly seabed all provide a nursery ground for these baby sole.

Once larger, sole move out to sea and reside on sandflats where they can burrow into the sand by day to escape predation, and hunt at dusk and dawn. Sole typically feed on small crabs, shrimp and worms. Sole are included within the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for commercial marine fish. They are however vulnerable to over exploitation and populations are thought to be declining.

Sole - Derek Haslam

                                                                  Sole - Derek Haslam

Ship Wrecks and Artifical Reefs

Within the North Sea we find not only natural habitats, but artificial habitats as well. Key examples of this are seen from the Wash to the Norfolk marine environment, where over 225 shipwrecks now grace the seabed with their presence. Over the years these wrecks have come to support a wealth of marine wildlife.

Wreck - Mark Thomas

                                                                 Ship wreck - Mark Thomas