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Visiting RSPB Bempton Cliffs

Chalk cliffs, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, and the most incredible sea views. Here’s all you need to know about Bempton Cliffs and how to visit.

Bempton Cliffs, located on the Yorkshire coast, is the perfect place to visit if you are a bird enthusiast, nature lover, photographer or fancy a proper bracing walk. Managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Bempton Cliffs is home to various seabirds which nest here, filling the air with their distinctive calls.

Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

The Bempton Cliffs nature reserve is located on a 5-6 mile stretch of coastline on the headland between Flamborough Head (and the impressive Flamborough Head Lighthouse) and Filey. Bempton’s seabirds are internationally significant, resulting in special protection for the area. This protection comes in two designations: a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protection Area (SPA). If you’re hoping to glimpse some of the half a million seabirds that breed between Bempton and Flamborough each year, the reserve is the ideal location. With six secure cliff-edge viewing platforms, you’ll experience an up-close view of this edge-of-the-world habitat.

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Puffins at Bempton Cliffs

Will I see puffins at Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve?

The Bempton Cliffs puffins are quite the spectacle with their vibrant orange beaks and amusing behaviour. Countless tourists flock to Yorkshire annually between April and July to spot them. The puffins spend their winters at sea before returning to Bempton in the springtime. According to the RSPB, approximately 4,000 pairs of puffins reside at Bempton Cliffs, where they reunite with their mate every year. You may even witness the puffins fishing at Bempton to nourish their pufflings.

Albie the Albatross at Bempton Cliffs

Recently, Bempton Cliffs have become famous for Albie, the only albatross in the Northern Hemisphere. These birds are usually found in the South Atlantic, but Albie seems to have flown off-course and ended up in Yorkshire. This long-distance traveller, with a wingspan of over 2.4m, was thought to be living in the Baltic Seas around Denmark and Germany since 2014. The South Atlantic oceans blew him off course. It has remained in the Baltic area ever since. It was first spotted in the summer of 2017 but reappeared at Bempton in the summers of 2020 and 2021, and potential sightings have been logged in 2022 and 2023.

More birds you are likely to see at Bempton Cliffs

  • Gannet: Look for gannets cruising around the cliffs and rearing their hungry chicks.
  • Guillemot: Crammed onto the narrowest cliff ledges, the endearing guillemots search for space, holding one precious egg between their feet. Once hatched, it’s only a matter of weeks before the chicks jump from the cliffs to the relative safety of the sea.
  • Barn owl: The iconic barn owl makes Bempton Cliffs its home year-round. Late afternoon is a great time to see barn owls gliding over the fields for a tasty vole or two.
  • Tree sparrow: The rare colony of tree sparrows is resident all year round and can be seen in most places on the reserve.
Birdlife at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire

Wildlife throughout the seasons

Spring: Many seabirds, including gannets, puffins, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, herring gulls, and shags, start to return in Spring. You can spot farmland birds like skylarks, tree sparrows, linnets, meadow pipits, and reed and corn buntings. On calm days, you may see porpoises; if you visit early in the morning, you might glimpse roe deer.

Summer:  Almost 500,000 seabirds nest on the cliffs during their breeding season. You can spot various birds, including breeding tree sparrows, whitethroats, corn buntings, skylarks, linnets, reed buntings, and rock and meadow pipits. On sunny days, you may also see more common butterflies and day-flying moths like cinnabars, burnet moths, and even hummingbird hawkmoths. You’ll find plenty of red campion along the trails among the flora.

Autumn: During October, Bempton Cliffs is an exciting place to witness the autumnal migration. Although most seabirds have left, gannets are still present. Short-eared owls come to stay through the winter, and migrants like willow warblers, chiffchaffs, whitethroats, lesser whitethroats, reed warblers, sedge warblers, goldcrests, stonechats, whinchats, wheatears, and redstarts arrive. Scarce species, such as red-backed shrikes and yellow-browed warblers, can also be seen. This is the best time to observe the arrival of winter thrushes, including hundreds of redwings, blackbirds, song thrushes, fieldfares, and occasional ring ouzels.

Winter: While the number of short-eared owls that winter here is relatively small, the Wildlife Garden provides nourishment and a haven for a variety of garden birds, including a tree sparrow colony. Although the cliff face is mainly devoid of birds, except for the occasional herring gull or fulmar, January brings an influx of gannets and, on some days, large numbers of guillemots.

Conservation at Bempton Cliffs

Conservation at Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

Regular patrols are taken to protect these birds during their breeding season to ensure their safety. But it’s not just the birds that make this reserve special. Beyond the cliffs, you’ll find a wide variety of wildlife, including seals and porpoises. They also work hard to increase populations of insects and small mammals to ensure these birds have plenty of food. With so much to see and learn, this reserve is a popular destination for those interested in wildlife conservation. Their team is always available to help you get closer to the wildlife and explain the threats facing these beautiful birds. 

Activities and events

They offer self-guided trails, including the Puffin Trail, Gannet Trail, and Scavenger Bug Hunt Trail. They also provide Discovery Backpacks for hire year-round, equipped with binoculars, spotter sheets, a bird book and a magnifying bug pot to help kids explore the reserve and get closer to nature.

For even more fun, join the Wildlife Walks (available from May to the end of August) or check out their Binocular and Telescope Open Weekends. And if you’re interested in leisure activities, take advantage of the spectacular seabird cruises from nearby Bridlington Harbour, which run from May to September and offer close-up views of puffins, gannets, guillemots, and more. Click here for the events calendar.

Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve at sunset

Is there parking and facilities?

There is plenty of parking available for visitors at Bempton Cliffs. To get there, head down the road from Bempton Village to the reserve, park your car, and take a leisurely walk from the visitor centre to the cliff tops. Parking location.

There are plenty of facilities at Bempton Cliffs, such as a visitor centre, toilets, accessible toilets, baby changing stations, stroller-friendly paths, a café, binocular rentals, guided tours, and an observation point.

Are dogs allowed at Bempton Cliffs?

Please keep your dog on a lead and under close, effective control while enjoying the reserve’s footpaths. There are dog-friendly routes for you and your pup to explore, but it’s important to remember that the wildlife and habitats here are sensitive. Even if dogs are well-behaved, they can easily startle wildlife, which uses up their energy and decreases their chance of survival. You are also welcome to bring your dog into the visitor centre.

How to get there

Train: If you prefer to travel by train, the closest station is Bempton, which is on the Hull/Scarborough line. To get to the reserve from the station, it’s approximately a 1 1/4-mile walk.

Car: If you’re driving, the reserve is a 30-minute drive from Scarborough and only around 10 minutes from Bridlington. You can follow the brown signs from the main roads or enter YO15 1JF into your Sat Nav.

Bempton Cliffs Walk

Bempton Cliffs Walk

12km, moderately challenging route

To explore the area, start by parking at the reserve car park and heading along the coast in an easterly direction. Afterwards, turn back and head west towards Buckton Cliffs. A lovely footpath awaits, running away from the coast and into the countryside towards Bempton. From there, a country lane leads you back to the car park. This walk offers excellent coastal scenery and North York Moors countryside views.

If you’re up for more adventure, you can easily continue your walk along the East Riding Heritage Way towards Thornwick Bay and Flamborough Head. Follow the full route here.

Bempton Cliffs to Flamborough Head

8.9 km, moderately challenging route

This route is around 8.9 km long and takes about 2 hours and 5 minutes to complete. Although moderately challenging, it’s a popular bird-watching trail. If you prefer a quieter experience, it’s best to go during off-peak hours. You can enjoy the beautiful scenery of this trail year-round, and dogs are welcome as long as they are on a lead. Follow the full route here.

Places to stay nearby

The North Star Hotel, situated on the cliffs of East Yorkshire, is just a short distance from the beach. The hotel has received multiple awards and makes the most of its fantastic location, offering breathtaking views. It’s just 2.6 miles away from Bempton Cliffs.

The Western Hotel in Scarborough is also an excellent choice for those exploring Scarborough; it’s 12.7 miles from RSPB Bempton Cliffs. This Victorian building provides 32 en-suite bedrooms, of which 18 enjoy panoramic views of the bay from Scarborough Castle to Cayton

With its coastal views and diverse range of bird species, this reserve offers a unique and unforgettable experience. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful hike or an opportunity to witness the beauty of nature up close, RSPB Bempton Cliffs will surely exceed your expectations.

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