Get in the water and up close and personal with seals on Lundy Island, writes assistant warden Siân Scott...

Assistant warden on Lundy Island, Siân Scott, writes about swimming with seals in this month’s Letter from Lundy.

For many visitors, the highlight of a trip to Lundy in August was the chance to see – and even swim with – the island’s resident Atlantic grey seals.

Our warden-led snorkel safaris have been more popular than ever this year, with many people taking the plunge in wetsuits, flippers and masks.

The scent of neoprene and anticipation emanates out of the beach hut as participants begin the ritual of wriggling into wetsuits, a struggle that serves as a vital warm-up before entering the Bristol Channel’s less-than-tropical waters.

Snorkelling these waters, you are streamlining through the history of marine conservation in Britain, as Lundy was the UK’s first statutory Marine Nature Reserve, No-Take Zone and Marine Conservation Zone.

The richness of Lundy’s protected underwater world begins to unveil itself in a surreal dreamscape of translucent jellyfish, psychedelic anemones, giant spiny starfish and silvery glimpses of sand eel shoals.

And then the moment comes (if we are lucky) when someone lets out a gurgled squeal of excitement through their breathing tube, and the dog-like face of a Lundy seal appears bobbing in the waves.

After scrutinising us on the surface, the more reserved creatures tend to dive down to the depths with just their huge, questioning eyes gazing upwards.

The seals with a more inquisitive and playful nature, however, revel in the attention of a captivated audience.

From the young female pirouetting coquettishly through the kelp fronds, to the juvenile male delicately displaying his set of teeth as he nibbled and tugged mischievously at our fins, to the one individual who caused great hilarity by brazenly sniffing an unsuspecting snorkeler.

Each passing encounter with these intelligent, mysterious and graceful ‘Labradors of the sea’ is a privilege, and reminds us of the uniqueness of our island fauna, as well as the ever-pressing need to protect them.

With the main pupping season for the Atlantic grey seals just on the horizon, it is worth remembering to keep your distance from these wild animals, whether they are in the water or hauled out on the shore.