Puffin Paradise by Karen Horsefield, Photo courtesy of Matthew Kilner
Top on your list of things to do whilst at the Bay must be a visit to Bempton Cliffs. Just a few miles up the road is the UK’s largest accessible seabird colony. Between April and September, up to half a million seabirds flock to the soaring cliffs to make nests high above the crashing waves of the North Sea. The sight of them swooping from their perches, diving into water or gliding back to their homes is like watching a live nature documentary. The swirling mass of birds with their various fluting, screeching and whistling calls above the bubbling cauldron of endless sea and white cliffs is a sensory delight. It’s no wonder the RSPB site has earned the nickname ‘Seabird City’. Even if you’re not a ‘twitcher’, you’re sure to be fascinated by kittywakes, fulmars, razorbills, guillemots and gannets – the largest seabirds in Europe with a wing span of up to two metres.
But star of the show has to be the elusive puffin. This seldom-seen visitor spends its summer nesting and raising its puffling, usually with the same mate year after year. The puffin parents take turns incubating the egg and after it is hatched one of the pair leaves the cliffs to gather fish and sand eels, usually at Dogger Bank, some 25 miles off the coast. It is whilst the pufflings are newly hatched and maturing from May to early July that visitors are most likely to catch that distinctive flash of orange legs and bill as the puffins take off and return to their nests. Over 4,000 puffins descend on the chalky cliffs to breed each year and the population is deemed stable, although this ‘clown of the seas’ is considered a vulnerable species, largely because of depleting fish stock and man-made pollution such as oil spills.
It’s hard to believe that birds we treasure and try to preserve were once considered ‘fair game’. Today thousands of visitors take Puffin cruises from Bridlington to view the scene from below, however our Victorian ancestors travelled to the cliffs armed with guns rather than binoculars. Shooting seabirds was considered a fine entertainment until it was banned in 1869. Even after that the colony was at risk: daring ‘climmers’ would abseil down the cliffs to pillage the rocks for eggs. Up to 80,000 eggs a year were plundered until this practice too was outlawed in 1954.
The RSPB became involved in protecting Bempton in 1969 and now the attraction has a visitor centre complete with gift shop and café which was expanded in 2015 following a £1.3 million upgrade. Visitors can rent binoculars and be treated to the expertise of volunteers stationed at viewing platforms, helping the uninitiated spot various birds and answering their questions.
If you’re feeling energetic, it’s a beautiful walk along the clifftops to Bempton from the end of the beach which is about 5 to 6 miles: perfect to whet the appetite for some tea, cake and puffin spotting.
RSPB Bempton Cliffs
Adult entry: £6
Child entry: £3
RSPB members: free
More information on Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve
Puffin Cruises from Bridlington on the Yorkshire Belle throughout the summer months