Seal Spotting in Horsham District

11 January 2021 | Posted in Wilder Horsham District
Seal Spotting in Horsham District
Common Seal on the River Adur at Small Dole © Michael Blencowe

By Michael Blencowe

Senior Communities and Wildlife Officer, Sussex Wildlife Trust

The launch of our Wilder Horsham District project last year inspired me to get out explore the wildlife and history of Horsham – the district where I live - in between lockdowns. On my first trip out I was surprised to find that Horsham was a lot wilder than I thought.

I had plotted my course out of my cul-de-sac and in search of a local legendary beast.  The stories tell that it’s been visiting Horsham for the past few months. There have been rumours and sightings from Upper Beeding all the way up to Henfield. In November, Wendy glimpsed it vanishing into the murky waters of the River Adur near Bramber. A month later, Barry was out walking his dog when he encountered the creature hauled out on the riverbank near Small Dole. So, over Christmas, I grabbed my camera, pulled on my wellies and headed down to the river. Following the riverbank through the fog, I turned a bend and there it was! – sat watching me through its wide black eyes from the far side. I needed to capture some evidence of the creature and, just before it could vanish back into the dark waters, I reached into my backpack, grabbed my camera, held it up and...

Photo 1

You’ll find many species of wild mammal living in Horsham district. Badgers, foxes, stoats, weasels, shrews, rabbits, hares, moles, voles, dormice, bats, rats, hedgehogs, mice and mink all form the mammalian fauna of this landlocked Sussex area. Yet there’s one salty surprise on the list; the Common Seal, an animal that’s typically found in Britain’s coastal waters 5 miles away. And the seal’s certainly been surprising many Horsham resident who, while innocently strolling along the Adur, have encountered their local leviathan.

Photo 2 

Common Seal on the River Adur at Small Dole

Sussex Wildlife Trust has received plenty of excited tweets, emails and shaky mobile phone videos from amazed observers who can’t believe what they’ve seen. Throughout history, sailors (without the benefits of smartphones and Twitter accounts) have confused seals for mermaids and sea serpents. That’s fair enough because as Sussex mammals go, this seal is a real monster. Common Seals can weigh up to 150 kg; twice the weight of a Fallow Deer, the second biggest wild mammal in this area (and 50,000 times heavier than the smallest; the Pygmy Shrew). 

On land, this blubbery behemoth is about as agile as Peter Ustinov trapped in a sleeping bag but underwater they’re in their element. As balletic as Baryshnikov, they gracefully swim at speeds of up to 25 mph as they hunt fish, shellfish, squid and octopus. It’s this quest for food that occasionally leads seals into Sussex rivers such as the Adur, Arun and Ouse as they follow fish migrating upstream.

Common Seals breed in Sussex, where there is a colony at Chichester Harbour. It’s a sink or swim situation for seal pups born on these sandbanks which are only exposed during the low tides of summer. Their aquatic life starts as the next high tide rolls in and within hours of their birth they’re swimming in the Solent alongside their mother. Mother’s milk helps them to double their birth weight in just a few weeks.

Photo 3 

Common Seal in Chichester Harbour, © John Arnott.

The name ‘common’ is a bit of a misnomer. In British waters, you’re three times more likely to see their larger, Roman-nosed relative the Grey Seal. The patterns on each seal’s fur are as individual as fingerprints. Keep an eye out when you’re next walking along the Adur and see if a seal is still around and giving the river its approval.

Photo 4 

Common Seal in Chichester Harbour, © John Arnott.  

Michael Blencowe goes in search of the Creature from the River Adur

Wilder Horsham District is an innovative five-year partnership between Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council working to deliver a Nature Recovery Network for Horsham District.

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  • Michael:

    15 Jun 2021 10:44:00

    Just seen a small seal being hassled by Seans on the Adur an hour’s walk up the easterly bank from Bramber not yet as far as the Downslink path crossing.

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