Ministerial VIP Visit

Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust hosted a 2 hour visit from Environment Secretary George Eustice to highlight the increasing challenges facing the UK’s globally rare grey seals.

Highlights of our discussions with George included:

● We all need to enjoy, respect and protect our native grey and common seals
● Seals are chronically disturbed (up to every 14 minutes) in combination with other threats from entanglement to climate change
● Disturbance is one problem we can all take action to easily solve today!

Founder of Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust (CSGRT) Sue Sayer welcomed Environment Secretary and MP George Eustice to the West Cornwall seal site to discuss disturbance and other issues facing UK seals. Building on our DEFRA Green Recovery Challenge Fund and Seal Alliance awareness raising work, CSGRT hopes to improve current legislation to make seal disturbance illegal and protect seals the same as whales and dolphins.


Sign the government petition to ‘Strengthen laws protecting seals’

Write to your MP asking them to sign the Early Day Motion to make seal disturbance illegal
Links to find out who your MP is and then sending a message to them is only one click away

Click here to access all the resources you need to do this including:
● Suggested content for you to cut, paste and edit
● Links to reports you can attach if you would like to

Sue explained:
Seals are more vulnerable than whales and dolphins spending vital rest time on land. Seals bring stories about the state of our seas to us on shore. We want people to enjoy, respect and protect seals. Impacts we have on seals are mostly invisible (disturbance always wastes energy, leads to broken bones and can be fatal months later).
Most marine issues need complex global solutions. The great news is that we can all solve disturbance simply, quickly and easily today…by GIVING SEALS SPACE and LEAVING THEM HOW WE FOUND THEM.

Environment Minister George Eustice MP with Sue Sayer CSGRT and Seal Alliance sign

Environment Minister George Eustice MP with Sue Sayer CSGRT and Seal Alliance sign

Ministerial visit team

Ministerial visit team. Sue Sayer CSGRT; Richard Bellamy NLHF; George Eustice MP; Steve Sudworth NT and Dan Jarvis BDMLR

George Eustice commented:
“Recently I visited a seal site in West Cornwall to meet with the leaders of the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust, to hear about their extensive work on seal conservation. Grey seals are frequently spotted all along the Cornish coastline.
Last year, the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust was one of the first to benefit from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, to support the work that they do to protect our seals.
It is vital that we educate people about ways to enjoy the coastline while protecting one of our most treasured marine species. We are supporting efforts to raise awareness.”

Serious disturbance incidents and the number of seals affected have more than doubled between 2011 and 2019. More seals are seriously affected as haul out numbers peak, whilst disturbance incidents peak when more people are around the coast in summer and early autumn. After lockdown, Aug 2020 was the worst Aug on record for the number of seals disturbed. A recent incident showed the impact that just a single kayaker can have as 15 of 18 seals were scared into stampeding from offshore rocks. This is just one issue facing seals. Other cumulative threats include entanglement, by-catch, marine plastics, pollution and climate change.

Offshore haul out with 18 seals hauled our resting

Offshore haul out with 18 seals hauled our resting

Seal stampede caused by kayaker

A single kayaker causes chaos on a offshore haul out

Click here to watch a video taken as this disturbance incident unfolded. This incident was unintentional, but all our awareness raising work needs to be backed up by legal enforcement if needed.

Sue and George were joined by:

● Richard Bellamy – Head of Engagement for the National Lottery Heritage Fund
● Steve Sudworth – Lead Ranger of the site for the National Trust
● Dan Jarvis – Welfare Development and Field Support Officer for British Divers Marine Life Rescue
● Cross comb, a heavily pregnant female wild grey seal who CSGRT first identified in 2003 (if disturbed over rocks, she could fatally injure her pup),

Pregnant females are especially vulnerable to disturbance

Crosscomb is a heavily pregnant adult female who CSGRT have photo identified since 2003.

Disturbance wastes energy, causes injury and can be fatal

Moulted pup showing signs of a disturbance injury having just stampeded over 100m of shingle


The National Lottery Heritage Fund administer the DEFRA Green Recovery Challenge Fund that is supporting the CSGRT People Protecting Precious Places (PPPP) project and has already helped to:

● Retain 3 and create 4 part time Marine Rangers roles to help raise awareness of the simple steps the public can take to protect these precious creatures.
● Provide 52000 Seal Alliance ‘Give Seals Space’ leaflets and 71 signs (shown above) that have been distributed nationally
● A new Seal Alliance website
● Systematic surveys at 4 sites across Cornwall which are currently underway
● A new St Ives Bay Stakeholder Group to trial grassroots, community generated marine site management plans in conjunction with everyone interested in or working in the marine environment.

How can you help grey seals? We want everyone to enjoy these amazing creatures for decades to come.

You can help by signing the petition yourself and contacting your MP to sign the EDM (see above) AND:  

● Keeping well away from seals (use a camera zoom or binoculars) so that seals can’t smell, hear or see you. This includes staying 100m away at sea and keeping to coastpaths and cliff tops on land (not walking on beaches or rocks where seals are resting)
● Keeping dogs on a lead when in an area where seals might be present
● Not feeding seals
● Leaving nothing behind – take litter home
● Reporting seals you see to CSGRT [email protected]

This is our ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity to make our UK coastlines safer for seals. Let’s make this happen!


Thank you to Geoff Penhaligon and Archie Azis from George’s Office and Emily Williams (a CSGRT Marine Stories Ranger funded by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund) for taking the photos in this blog.

Huge thanks for the generous grant from DEFRA via the National Lottery Heritage Fund called the Green Recovery Challenge Fund.  This is supporting CSGRT’s Rangers in 2021 as the future leaders of marine conservation in Cornwall and beyond. This grant has raised the profile or our charity and is enabling us to work at a national level with politicians to better protect our vulnerable seals from disturbance.