- Wildlife Groups
I heard the other day that Bempton Cliffs is the most visited RSPB reserve in the country, and I can believe it. Puffins are the main draw and the RSPB heavily promote their presence on the cliffs between April - Aug with hundreds of birdwatchers and casual visitors flocking to the reserve during this time, and it's not uncommon for people to be turned away due to lack of car parking spaces! My tip if your visiting during the summer months is to go midweek either early morning or late afternoon.
Being East Yorkshire based I've visited the reserve many times, usually during the autumn when all manner of migrant birds turn up, but with upwards of half a million breeding seabirds present here on the towering cliffs during the summer, I'm happy to brave the crowds and share with them the magnificent wildlife spectacle of masses of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and Puffins filling the air with their raucous calls.
The reserve is accessed via a single track road from Bempton village and the RSPB have increased the car parking spaces over the years to accommodate more visitors. From the visitor centre, which includes a cafeteria, there are several waymarked trails through the cliff top grasslands and scrub that attract those migrant birds in the spring and autumn.
In the summer however most folk head straight down to the cliff top platforms, all of which are ideally situated to enable safe viewing of the seabirds. Most of these platforms are set up for disabled access and true to RSPB form have plenty of displayed educational information about the wildlife. The views are second to none with Gannets, Kittiwakes and auk species seemingly everywhere, crowded onto narrow ledges and flying past at eye level as they soar past the cliff tops. Other breeding birds and worth looking out for here include Fulmar, Shag, Peregrine Falcon and in the surrounding fields Linnets.
Easterly winds in autumn can often bring thousands of additional birds - migrating thrushes, warblers, finches and chats blown in from their southward journeys and descending onto the cliff top fields and scrubland for respite before continuing on. Inevitably, rare and scarce species turn up here too and on its day Bempton can be every bit as good as nearby birding hotspot Flamborough Head for 'twitchable' birds.
And in recent years a very special bird has put in an appearance on the cliffs - a Black Browed Albatross. Thought to be the same individual that has relocated to the Baltic Sea after being blown off course in 2014, this magnificent seabird has graced the cliffs on and off since 2017 and this year it turned up at almost exactly the same time as in 2020. With only around 30 UK records and such an iconic bird it drew big crowds, me included (see links at the end for the news post on this bird).
In the wintertime the reserve is much quieter but still has its appeal with Short Eared Owls most years hunting over the fields and massive finch flocks attracted by the previous season's plant seeds. The Gannets are here all the year round but the Puffins and other auks are only here during the breeding season from April to mid July when they begin to depart for the open seas. Although primarily a birdwatching reserve, Bempton is as good as anywhere else on the Yorkshire coast for spotting marine mammals species such as Minke Whale and Bottle Nosed Dolphin, and the cliff top fields are a riot of colour in summer with wild flowers that in turn attract a wide variety of butterflies and moths. Many people choose to access the reserve via the Headland Way coastal path which extends both ways from Bempton, as far as Flamborough Head to the south and Speeton to the north, and this is a good way to fully appreciate the splendour of this stretch of Yorkshire coastline.
Tony Dixon - for his Black Browed Albatross image.
Related pages from Yorkshires Wildlife