It’s an honour – MBE!

Please see below for an UPDATE about Sue’s INVESTITURE

Sue Sayer, Founder and Director of the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust (CSGRT), also known as the Seal Research Trust (SRT) nationally, has been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours 2023.
Sue has dedicated over 20 years to marine conservation and in particular the UK’s native, heritage seal species. Her volunteer dedication, leadership and passion have inspired hundreds of volunteers that assist Sue in her quest to make the marine environment a healthier, more economically vibrant and protected place for all of us to enjoy.

Sue (right) doing her twice weekly survey with Kate Hockley SRT Co-Vice Chair (by Terry Carne)

Sue has been a driving force for change. Coordinating scientific evidence to inform marine conservation, Sue has concentrated her efforts into delivering learning experiences for all ages groups right across the UK. She even gave her first talk in Asia in 2022. Sue’s book ‘Seal Secrets’ has just been updated and will be reprinted in 2023. She delivers inspiring school, college, university, community and specialist programmes in her unique, animated and passionate way that leaves people smiling and wanting to learn more.

Sue delivering a remote zoom talk for Key Stage 1 pupils for a school in Yorkshire (by Polly Ford)

This work has not gone unnoticed. CSGRT soon became a multi award winning charity renowned throughout the UK and internationally. By encouraging, upskilling and empowering volunteers, Sue has created the largest Photo ID database of seals across England and Wales that has revealed thousands of seal movements around the Celtic Sea (650km to the north, 800km to the south and 650km east into the North Sea). This crucial data has been used by the UK Government and many statutory, non-governmental organisations and charities to influence marine conservation policy including advice on amendments to UK laws to better protect these charismatic marine mammals. Seals are sentinels bringing key messages about the state of our seas to us on land.

Seals are sentinels bringing information about the state of our seas to us on land

Sue helps others to set up their own groups and then supports them by providing advice and guidance on a local, regional and national basis. Her work continues to influence cleaner and healthier policies that protect the environment and us – giving us all the chance of a liveable planet in the future.

Gareth Richards (Gower Seal Group, South Wales) said ‘Sue has given us incredible support as one of the newest seal groups within the UK Seal Alliance and I’m so grateful for her help. What Sue has in abundance, is the ability to inspire people. Her work within the Alliance has been phenomenal. Sue truly is the platform for ‘giving our seals a voice’ and we are so pleased that she has been recognised for her dedication and unfailing efforts in marine conservation. From all of us in Wales ‘Diolch yn Fawr Iawn, a da iawn Sue’
Sue is Chairperson of the UK Seal Alliance Strategy Group working closely with many seal conservation organisations throughout the UK and Ireland. Galvanising these various communities, Sue has facilitated effective collaboration, provided motivation and unbelievable knowledge to champion the many projects and campaigns being pursued for a better future for us all.

Sue illustrating the issues of lost fishing gear on seals to Simon Reeve (by Sarah Millward)

Dan Jarvis (CSGRT Trustee and British Divers Marine Life Rescue Director) said ‘It has been an absolute honour working alongside Sue since CSGRT first formed. Her limitless enthusiasm for seal conservation and research has been a constant source of inspiration and motivator for everyone around her. We are always in awe of everything that she has achieved and the many collaborations and partnerships that have formed and benefitted greatly from her tremendous expertise and energy. We have discovered huge amounts of new animal and site behaviours, individual habits and more that have been recorded by volunteers from across the region by CSGRT. None of this would ever have happened without Sue and her ability to bring everyone together in the way that she has. People and seals have a great deal to be grateful for in having such a passionate advocate!’

Ranger Sarah (left), Lesley Fitt from Sea Changers and SRT Treasurer with Sue on a routine boat survey (by Adrian Langdon)

Sue Sayer MBE Founder and Director of the Seal Research Trust said ’I am still overwhelmed and, rather unusually, a little lost for words with this award. It is very humbling. I am blessed with the support, energy and expertise of a huge volunteer network of inspiring, community-based citizen scientists who devote their time to making their local coastline safer for seals and healthier for us all. We are in turn supported by remote digital volunteers from other countries such as Iceland, Germany and the USA! I represent a massive team effort and this MBE is an incredible validation of the value of what we all do together! We put seals first and give them a voice, representing them through science as well as rational, sensible and thought-provoking engagement. I could not be more proud. Thank you to everyone who has made this happen!’

Sue with SRT Patron Gillian Burke (by Billy Heaney)


Investiture plans

2023 started with a wonderful surprise for the Seal Research Trust (SRT) Volunteer, Ranger and Trustees team as Sue Sayer was honoured with an MBE for her services to wildlife conservation and protection. 2023 also ends on a high as Sue heads off to London to receive her MBE at Windsor Castle on 12/12/23.

Sue will be accompanied by SRT’s two Vice Chairs, Kate Hockley and Dan Jarvis, along with the person who nominated her in the first place – Gareth Richards, Founder and Director of the Gower Seal Group in south Wales and her partner Chris Howell.

Seals are sentinels, bringing stories about the state of our seas to us on land, but will we listen and act in time? Keen as ever to spread vital marine conservation messaging, rather unusually, Sue will actually be wearing a ‘Seal’ fascinator and a day dress featuring Van Gogh’s ‘Starry night’!

Fascinator: ‘Chairlift’ the seal

Modelled out of marine plastics collected off Cornish beaches by the hugely talented Michelle Costello from ‘Smartie Lids on the Beach’, Sue’s fascinator depicts her favourite and first ever re-identified seal from the year 2000 – ‘Chairlift’ who is still alive in 2023. Chairlift has been delicately stitched from fishing rope fibres into a classic ‘banana’ pose adopted when cold water hits a seal’s sensitive extremities. Chairlift is lying on ‘rocks’ at that are actually marine pyroplastics (historically burned plastics) that have floated ashore on the strand line and surrounded by a choppy sea fashioned out of lost fishing net.

Day dress, shawl and sneakers: Van Gogh ‘Starry Night’

Van Gogh is Sue’s favourite artist. To Sue, Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ is a prophetic painting, reflecting the planetary turmoil we now find ourselves in, in terms of climate change and marine pollution (including plastics).

SRT Impact 2023

Always mindful of their emissions, everyone is travelling via public transport or car sharing and taking the opportunity to meet with fellow volunteers in London during their stay in the capital.

In fact, this will be the first time Sue has left Cornwall since the COVID pandemic, as the majority of her work is now conducted online. Zoom and Teams have enabled the charity to grow their impact substantially spatially and in terms of their number of beneficiaries – at least doubling their impact since 2019 with the public to 28,284 people in the first 11 months of 2023. Half of SRT’s engagement has been with people in Cornwall and the other half national (34%) and global (10%)! SRT even has remote digital volunteers across the world in the USA, Europe and Australasia. The only continent Sue has yet to present to is Antarctica and she has a plan for that! 😊


Windsor Castle

SRT’s day at Windsor Castle lived up to expectations.

Sue was accompanied by her husband Chris, Dan Jarvis (SRT’s Vice Chair) and Gareth Richards (Founder and Director of Gower Seal Group) who all looked great in their finery.

On arrival, we were greeted by high security as we were extremely excited to hear that the King was in residence and would be conducting Sue’s Investiture!

Photo of armed security guard at Windsor Castle
High security at Windsor Castle entrance

The MBE presentation ceremony

The grounds and surroundings were grand and opulent and the halls were filled with incredibly inspiring people from all walks of life. Everyone was made to feel very special by the Castle staff and whilst every second of the event was managed and choreographed precisely, there was still a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
On hearing her surname, Sue was asked to walk up to and curtsey to the King before shaking his hand.

Photo of Sue Sayer MBE walking up to King Charles and shaking his hand
Sue Sayer greeting the King Charles III at Windsor Castle watched over by Chris, Dan and Gareth

Talking to the King

The first thing the King said was ‘what is that?’ looking at Sue’s fascinating fascinator! Sue shared details about ‘Chairlift’ the seal and the exciting news that despite first identifying Chairlift in 2000, she had in fact seen him the previous week alive and well. Sue explained her fascinator was made from marine plastics and pyroplastics taken from Cornish beaches. She discussed the relevance of her outfit to the key challenges we now face in terms of climate change and marine plastics both linked by the fossil fuel industry. The King repeatedly looked at Chairlift during their conversation and was thoughtful whilst asking highly relevant questions.

Photos of Sue being presented with her MBE by King Charles, chatting, laughing and sharing seal and marine conservation stories
Sue was presented with her MBE by King Charles III and enjoyed a short conversation about seals and the sea

Enjoying Windsor Castle grounds

All too soon it was over and the SRT team were then free to explore Windsor Castle grounds.

Photos of Sue holding her MBE up next to a straight faced Beefeater and enjoying Windsor Castle Grounds
Sue Sayer MBE posing with a Beefeater (in wet weather gear) and enjoying Windsor Castle Grounds

Evening celebration

Later in the day, Sue was delighted to finally get to meet face to face with London based SRT volunteers, Mary Tester (Founder and Director of Thames Seal Watch who has led on all the Seal Alliance parliamentary process work) and Hayley Mitchell (SRT’s Fundraising Coordinator).

Mary Tester (left), Sue Sayer MBE, Hayley Mitchell and Gareth Richards (right)

A great day was had by all and we were all proud to represent SRT and seals with his majesty King Charles III!

Help Sue help more seals for the next 20 years!

Sue’s work will never stop. You can do your bit too … reduce your emissions at work, home and play; pick up beach litter; support our online one stop sealy shop; donate to the cause; adopt a seal; do a SW seal survey; remotely process survey photos into albums from the comfort of your own home; fundraise; distribute seal leaflets across your patch; share our social media posts or simply tell everyone just how amazing our UK native, heritage, speciality seals are!

Here’s to the next 20 years!

#ProtectTheWildlife #RespectTheirSpace #GoodNeighbours #BeAGoodNeighbour #RespectTheLocals #PeopleFreeZones #SpaceForNature #WildSpaces