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RSPB Bempton Site Guide

July 8, 2015

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Birdwatch magazine (and is reproduced here with permission).

As viewers of the recent BBC Springwatch at Easter will no doubt recall, there are few places on the British coastline as dramatic, enthralling and alive with birds as RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Recently re-launched to much-deserved acclaim and fanfare, the reserve boasts that rare combination of easy accessibility and an internationally-renowned wildlife experience. An unforgettable assault on the senses, Bempton has to be seen and heard (and indeed smelled) to be believed – it’s the archetypal seabird city, with every last available ledge occupied by one or more iconic species.

The rugged limestone cliffs rise some 400 ft from the North Sea, with purpose-built cliff-top viewing platforms giving unrivalled views not only of the stars of the show, but also of the beautiful Yorkshire coastline – with Flamborough Head, Filey Brigg and Scarborough Castle all jostling for attention within a breathtaking panorama.

June is the perfect time to visit, with all the main players in the thick of their breeding cycle. Of the quarter of a million seabirds present, top of the list for many has to be the Gannets, whose numbers have rocketed from just a handful a few decades ago to over 11,000 pairs presently. Look out for the numerous mini-dramas unfolding within the colony, which can easily occupy the lion’s share of your visit!

All three breeding auk species can be seen at superbly close range (and even within the same field of view) from the viewpoints; rows of squabbling Guillemots and Razorbills dominate, with Puffins most often found where suitable crevices occur. Kittiwakes are arguably a much underrated attraction, with the thousands of pairs providing eerie onomatopoeic serenades and sudden ‘snowstorms’ as they leave the cliffs en masse, while doe-eyed Fulmars allow close scrutiny both on the nest and in the air. The whole experience is a photographer’s dream, with all the key species not only in situ but also close-up in flight, often at eye level.

One of the best things about visiting Bempton Cliffs is that there’s no need to plan a route – all the viewpoints offer different perspectives on the same suite of flagship species, with the nearest just a couple of minutes from the visitors centre, and the furthest – Jubilee Corner to the west and Staple Newk to the east – only about 15 minutes in either direction. Thus if you wander between them and take your time, you’re guaranteed contrasting experiences at each. If there’s something in particular you’d like to see – say, Puffins up close, or the best view of Razorbill chicks – ask the ever helpful staff in the centre and they’ll provide up-to-the-minute directions.

While the majority of visitors understandably come for the seabirds, Bempton is a magnet for migrants, with a long list of mouth-watering scarcities and rarities to its name. With this in mind, if the conditions are favourable it’s worth checking the bushes carefully – early June could easily produce a classic late spring arrival (perhaps Marsh Warbler or Red-backed Shrike), and it’s a peak time for an outlandish mega. Good spots include the areas of scrub around the centre and the small ‘bowl’ of scrub by the car park known as the Dell.

Breeding landbirds across the reserve include ubiquitous Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings (often best located via their ‘bunch-of-keys’ song) and Skylarks, with Kestrels and Barn Owls favouring the rough grassland and Peregrines potentially anywhere overhead or along the clifftops.

Be sure also to keep an eye on the open sea, where summer cetacean sightings are increasingly common: Harbour Porpoise are regular and Minke Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins and White-beaked Dolphins have all visited recently.

Finally, stop off at the visitor’s centre not only for refreshments on the outdoor seating areas overlooking the reserve but also for books, gifts, optics, and the larger-than-life action unfolding on the giant screens via the new on-cliff webcams.


Sites and access
The reserve is open at all times throughout the year. Adults £3.50; Children: (5-17yrs) £2; Family ticket (two adults/two children) £8.50; RSPB members: free. The new seabird centre is open daily from 9.30 am-5 pm in summer and 9.30 am–4 pm in winter; toilets (including disabled) are on site. Part of the reserve is wheelchair-friendly, but contact staff re: the state of paths and accessibility before leaving.

Web resources
Website: – for all site info
Twitter: – for latest sightings
Telephone: 01262 422212

Words and pictures copyright Mark James Pearson 2015
















































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