IT has been a year to remember for staff and volunteers at Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Here are some of their highlights:

No fewer than three basking sharks were spotted off the coast of Cumbria between May and August 2019.

A very unusual occurrence as they are usually spotted around the Isle of Man, Cornwall and the Inner Hebrides.

Basking sharks are the second largest fish in our oceans, after the whale shark.

It was a bumper year for the grey seal colony at South Walney Nature Reserve, with nearly 500 seals recorded at peak count.

A total of seven grey seal pups have been born so far this year.

This is the fifth year running that pups have been born on Walney Island. The highest number of pups born was in 2017 when 10 pups were recorded.

South Walney Nature Reserve is the principal haul out site for grey seals in the North West of England.

This relatively new breeding colony has grown rapidly over the last 10 years.

In May, six new Marine Conservation Zones were designated in the Irish Sea, including in the Solway Firth and West of Copeland.

This will benefit a range of wildlife species including ancient clams, sea pens, fish, sea urchins, burrowing anemones and starfish.

During 2019, no fewer than 62 beach cleans were organised in Cumbria by staff and volunteers, collecting 13,103.5kg (or 13 tonnes) of litter (not including large items like tyres, carpets, fishing nets/pots, appliances).

South Walney Nature Reserve hosted two successful family fun days to introduce young people to the wealth of wildlife found at the nature reserve. 500 people visited in April, soon after the new visitor cabin was officially opened by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

Towards the end of the year a juvenile minke whale washed up at South Walney Nature Reserve.

The cause of death could have been one or a combination of factors, including consumption of plastic, build-up of toxins or even a loud noise out at sea can cause problems for these majestic creatures.

The UK's smallest whale, the minke whale, is notoriously inquisitive around boats and is even known to breach clear of the water.

Dr Emily Baxter, Senior Marine Conservation Officer at Cumbria Wildlife Trust said: “The success of the grey seal colony at South Walney Nature Reserve is not down to luck.

"We work hard to try and make sure the colony is protected from disturbance and the beaches are closed to the public.

"However, we are seeing an increasing number of disturbance events from kayakers and other boats coming too close to seals resting on the beach.

"When seals are disturbed, they flee into the sea using up important energy stores and may abandon their pups, so educating sea (and land) users around the reserve is an important part of our work.”

Dr Baxter led the campaign for the new Marine Conservation Zones in the North West, she says: “We were delighted in May when six new areas in the North West, including two off Cumbria, were designated as Marine Conservation Zones.

"The protection of these areas is crucial to the recovery of an array of underwater habitats and threatened species that have suffered from decades of over-exploitation.

"These special places include deep muddy plains that are home to delicate sea pens, strange spoon worms, fragile sea potatoes, as well as the world’s longest lived creatures – ocean quahog clams.

"Other areas include scarce areas of sandy seabed that support a wealth of wildlife from molluscs to sea urchins, and burrowing anemones and starfish, plus four important estuaries across the North West where some of the last surviving populations of European smelt (the cucumber fish) in England are known to exist.”