Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve

Saving our seabirds and our seas

We put science into practice to safeguard seabirds, and secured a historic marine reserve in the Atlantic.

Welcome to seabird city

Bempton Cliffs, at Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, lies at the heart of the UK's largest mainland seabird colony and, between March and September, provides one of the UK's top wildlife spectacles.

Now, thanks to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and Coastal Communities Fund, we've opened an award-winning Seabird Centre, with fully accessible footpaths, six viewing decks perched on top of the 100 metre-tall chalk cliffs, self-guided trails, live CCTV footage, family activities, education visits and a picnic area.

This makes it the UK's most accessible place to see puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and shags, as well as the largest seabird in the UK, the gannet. It's a fantastic gateway to the seabird city.

Gannet Morus bassana, pair displaying at nest, Bass Rock

Saving seabirds with technology

We've been using GPS tags to help us understand where seabirds go, and where they look for food, at Bempton Cliffs and more than 30 other sites across the British Isles.

On the Shiants - one of the most important seabird breeding sites in Europe - GPS tags were attached to 17 guillemots and 31 razorbills.

At the same time, a boat-based survey was carried out, enabling the seabird scientists to make a direct comparison between the GPS tracks and the boat observations. This information means we learn where the seabirds go, and where they look for food.

Scientists downloading tracking data on beach

Hornsea wind farm

This seabird tracking technology was also instrumental for us in fighting against the development of the Hornsea Project Two wind farm, scheduled to be built 56 miles (90 km) east of Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs Special Protection Areas (SPAs), and the Flamborough and Filey Coast potential SPA.

Through our tracking, we showed that the proposed site is within the areas where breeding gannets and kittiwakes search for food. Based on known foraging ranges, puffins, guillemots and razorbills from Bempton are also likely to feed in these areas.

We were concerned that a wind farm in this location could have serious impacts on these protected sites and their species. Natural England also campaigned against Hornsea Project Two, who withdrew their final objection in December 2015 after the developers agreed to remove 60 of the turbines and raise the height of the remaining ones.

Though these changes should reduce the numbers of gannet and kittiwake collisions, the numbers of casualties is still predicted to be too high. These changes also do not fully address our concerns for feeding guillemots, puffins and razorbills which may be displaced.

The RSPB supports the need for renewable energy, but it is vital that renewable developments are located away from important wildlife sites. 

Hornsea Project Two is located in an important wildlife site. Sadly, Government gave permission for the project in August 2016. We will continue to work hard to protect seabirds from any future offshore developments within sensitive seabird areas; we cannot do this without an evidence base.

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, taking off from water, Farne Islands, Northumberland

Protecting Ascension's sea life

In January 2016, we had the extremely positive news that an area of 220,000 square kilometres around the UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island will be protected as a marine reserve.

The island lies 1,000 miles from West Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean. Ascension Island is home to the second largest green turtle nesting site in the Atlantic, and unique fish species such as the resplendent angelfish. The RSPB played a key role in getting this area designated as a marine reserve.

As just 3% of the global seas have any form of protection, this is a vital step.

Green turtle Chelonia mydas, Adult nesting, Ascension Island