There is probably one animal that I think of more readily than any other when Autumn arrives, it's the grey seal. I have spent many, many days over many many years filming the drama of their breeding season and they are an animal I never bore of. So, as the weather starts to turn and Summer well and truly leaves our shores, I thought it a nice to time to reminisce about one of my grey seal adventures.
The first time I remember getting to know them well was on an Autumnwatch shoot back in, I think, 2008. I went to live on a tiny island called Brownsman Island, one of the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast. I was actually filming and producing a live broadcast that was being presented by Gordon Bucanan, it was the first real live stuff he had done and he was really nervous. To be honest we were both in the same boat, I had never filmed or produced live TV either and I had been given a tiny team of 3 people to do it. I had no idea if I could pull it off and nor did anyone else. Even the series producer said "we don't expect much, anything will do". The main issue wasn't the teams ability, we were some of the best in the industry at the time, it was that we had been given the very latest satellite broadband technology with which to transmit our films from and no one really knew if it would work. We might have filmed some cracking stuff but have no way of sending it to the outside world.
We were on a rock in the North Sea in 200 year old light house with one petrol generator, food and water rations for 3 weeks and a single gas fire. We had no way off the island without calling for a helicopter, the seas were so rough a boat was never going to make it. It was a proper adventure and I liked the fact that we felt so remote in somewhere that was so close to home. We could see the lights of the mainland twinkle at us over the waves every night. People with hot water and central heating, all of them so far removed from the basic existence we were living just a few miles away out at sea. On the one hand it felt like we had gone back a hundred years, on the other we were making live TV with the most up-to-date technology in the world. It was an exciting thing to be part of.
As it happens, the whole thing was a roaring success. All the technology worked and we found a brilliant little seal pup who we called Nemo. He turned into a real star, constantly getting into scrapes, going swimming when he shouldn't and almost being washed away by a huge storm. The dramas were endless everyday and footage we got was some of the best the BBC had ever managed. To have all the odds stacked against you and pull it off was a real feat and I can't thank that team enough for what was a truly memorable event. David Steel was the National Trust warden at the time and he lived with us through it, even helped out with the live shows. I feel David is a lifelong friend thanks to those three intense weeks. He now lives on the Isle of May still looking after seals and seabirds, a very dedicated man, a total legend.
And so it is always with great fondness that i look through my grey seal photographs which i took on that trip and one of which i have shared here above. They are remarkable animals and have given me remarkable adventures. I wonder what my next one with them will be?