Posted 14th July
New figures have revealed gannets, puffins and razorbills are among the hundreds of thousands of seabirds making up the largest mainland seabird colony in the UK on the Flamborough and Filey Coast
The 400ft chalk cliffs found around the Flamborough and Filey coast - a proposed Special Protected Area (pSPA) - offers some of the most spectacular views of seabirds in the country. The coastline stretches 17 miles from Bridlington to the north of Filey, and includes special sites such as RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Flamborough Headland and Filey Bay. Each year, the Heritage Coast cliffs come alive with the sights, sounds and smells of these seabirds arriving to nest and raise their chicks.
The latest count of the birds took a team of six experts 253 hours during May and June this year, revealing the colony is now home to 298,054 breeding seabirds, fledging to over 113,000 young making it the largest mainland colony in the UK.
The last national census was conducted in 2000. Since then, there has been a dramatic change in the number of seabirds calling the coast their home. Latest figures show the numbers of gannets have increased from 2,550 to 13,400 (+425 per cent), guillemots from 31,000 to more than 57,000 pairs (+79 per cent), kittiwakes from 42,000 to 45,3000 (+7 per cent), razorbill jumped from 5,700 to 19,000 pairs (+230 per cent) and the number of puffins reached 1,440 pairs.
Keith Clarkson, Seabird Census Project Manager, based at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, said: "Every year our senses come alive with the sights, sounds and smells of hundreds of thousands of seabirds that turn the cliffs at Bempton Cliffs into a bustling hive of activity – there are few more striking wildlife spectacles in the UK that fill your senses like the seabirds at Bempton."
Despite a dramatic increase in the numbers found in the site over the past 17 years, the pattern isn't mirrored around other parts of the UK's shores. Since 1982, the UK's Seabird Population Indicator - based on breeding numbers for 13 species of seabird from a handful of colonies - has dipped by 22 per cent, with the majority of the decline occurring over the last ten years, leaving some species and sites at risk.
The dramatic change in breeding populations on Flamborough and Filey Coast pSPA highlights the need for a National Seabird Census to understand these changes, and pinpoint conservation efforts. Since the last population census 17 years ago, there is likely to have been changes throughout other seabird colonies around the UK coast.
Keith Clarkson added: "This latest survey highlights the international importance of this stretch of coastline is for breeding seabirds. While the birds at sites such RSPB Bempton Cliffs are doing well, the national indicator suggests that seabirds around the rest of the UK are struggling. It is vital for the future of our seabirds that we now have a national census to learn more about the colonies around the UK and to pinpoint our efforts to help save them."
The survey, funded by Natural England, took a team of RSPB experts 34 days, or 253 hours, which included 214 hours spent on a boat counting seabirds nesting on the cliffs.
Anne Armistead, Natural England's Yorkshire Coast Project Officer, said: "It’s wonderful that at Flamborough and Filey Coast numbers are increasing. Attracted by safe cliff nests and plentiful food out at sea, Flamborough is now the most important colony for gannets and kittiwakes in England. Sadly, elsewhere across the UK, seabird numbers are in decline and detailed bird surveys like this provide important evidence to inform our protection work with the RSPB and other partners."
Image courtesy of Ed Marshall