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The Long Good Friday: Springwatch on the Yorkshire coast

May 18, 2015

This article was originally published here by Birding Frontiers in April 2015.

The spotlight falls on RSPB Bempton Cliffs and its neighbours this Easter, reflecting a quiet revolution of birder-led team efforts up here on the Yorkshire coast…

After plenty of hard work and much anticipation, the all-new lip-smackin’ RSPB Bempton Cliffs re-opens this week, on Good Friday, 3rd April. Coinciding with the relaunch of this most magical of reserves is a BBC Springwatch at Easter special, airing on the very same evening (at 9pm, with a repeat on Easter Sunday at 7pm, both on BBC2). No doubt the BBC will do a fine job of transmitting the unique sensory overload of Bempton’s seabird city into the nation’s living rooms, resulting in that rarest of rares, an hour well spent in front of the TV.

But what may not be so obvious to those tuning in over the Easter weekend is that the people, groups and projects featured on the show are part of a collective sea change along our beloved stretch of Yorkshire coast of late. Springwatch at Easter is set to showcase not only the drama of Bempton (justifiably taking centre stage) but crucially also the wider area, including both Filey and Flamborough Bird Observatories, as well as Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Centre. Thus the show reflects what is, increasingly, very much a team effort these days, with a burgeoning connectivity between our respective manors.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that those involved in the projects highlighted by the programme are genuine, locally-sourced, dyed-in-the-wool conservationists; better still, you’ll be pleased (and maybe surprised) to learn that, perhaps first and foremost, many are straight-up obsessive birders, trying their stuttering best to communicate their passions to wider audiences. No fear, then, of bland script regurgitations and feigned careerist enthusiasm; style over substance is resolutely off the agenda, and (while not wanting to draw attention to any on-screen fashion crimes) I’m happy to report it’s very much the other way round.

At the helm of the Springwatch coverage is RSPB Bempton Cliffs Site Manager Keith Clarkson. Responsible not only for the relaunch of the reserve but also for pulling together the disperate threads that made the programme happen, Keith is also a dedicated lifelong birder and pioneer in the dark art of visible migration. When not overseeing arguably the greatest show in Yorkshire, you’ll find him obsessively vismigging at Hunmanby Gap (in the south of the Filey recording area); if you do, be prepared to discuss the migration strategies of Meadow Pipits as enthusiastically as you would the virtues of toy Puffins in the reserve shop.

Most of the other key personnel (perhaps wisely) remained on the more flattering side of the camera. Out on the boat with Keith and Chris Packham was Steve Race, award-winning wildlife photographer, RSPB Bempton Cliff’s Education Officer, and co-director of Yorkshire Coast Nature, a local nature tourism company proudly putting its money where its mouth is by giving back to the places it celebrates – hence the bankrolling of local conservation projects, the sponsoring of the Filey, Flamborough and Yorkshire Bird Reports and plenty more besides.

Behind the scenes of the clifftop spectacle is Bempton’s warden, Dave Aitken; ever-helpful, highly-skilled, obsessively twitchy on the one hand and yet devoted to his adopted patch on the other. Just down the road is Rich Baines, finally seeing the rewards of years of patient toil in the face of indifference and hostility (modestly sharing such mind-blowing rares as Brown Flycatcher along the way); Rich’s dedication to conservation and a more open, welcoming culture at Flamborough are the foundations upon which the Observatory’s recent renaissance is based. Add the infectious enthusiasm of a certain Mr Garner and a growing team of forward-thinking, passionate birders to the mix, and it’s rosier than ever on the Great White Cape.

Here at Filey, meanwhile, a dynamic and multi-skilled team is ensuring the Observatory is in rude health. Membership is rising steadily (with a faithful hardcore augmented by many new members, including an encouraging percentage of younger people), our network of reserves are in fine fettle, community involvement is now an integral part of our work, and the overhauling and relaunch of our annual report happily received much acclaim recently. We’ve been working closely with RSPB Bempton (monitoring our breeding seabirds, hosting events) and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (at Filey Dams reserve), and we share plenty of skills and knowledge (and more in the near future) with our comrades across the bay at Flamborough Bird Observatory.

The great work being carried out by Kat, Ant and their colleagues at the YWT Living Seas Centre at South Landing, Flamborough is another example of localised collaboration working well. In addition to their day-to-day marine-themed endeavours, they host regular evening talks by special expert guests, maintain an up-to-date wildlife sightings board, and work closely not only with RSPB Bempton, but also with Flamborough Bird Observatory; to this end, they’ll soon be sharing their impressive new premises with FBO’s ringing team – the Observatory’s first ever physical presence, and a testament to the hard work of all parties.

Back at Bempton, and the opening of the new Seabird Centre is set to provide a new and much-needed hub for local groups, birding-themed events and activities, hosting talks, workshops and much more (as well as a catering for the more mainstream requirements of a flagship reserve) – a reflection of the focus and intent to keep the birding community very much in the mix at the relaunched reserve. There are many others who deserve a mention here, but space prevents a longer roll of credits.

All of which is worth celebrating; there’s a lot going on, and crucially, it’s all interconnected. Would any of this have happened twenty, ten, or even five years ago? Not likely. Being involved with much of the above, I’ll make no apology for shamelessly cheerleading here; it’s the prevailing mood of collaboration and cross-pollination that makes the groups and projects involved much more than the sum of their parts these days.

So when you tune in to Springwatch at Easter over this coming weekend, hopefully you’ll enjoy the spectacle and get inspired to visit this most awe-inspiring (and easily reached) of Britain’s natural wonders; but it’s also worth bearing in mind that, thanks to the efforts and vision of a dynamic bunch of birder-conservationists, we’ve never had it so good around here. Come on in, the water’s lovely.

Words & Pictures copyright Mark James Pearson 2015



























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