Discover Yorkshire's seabird city

(c) George Stoyle

During the late spring and early summer, tens of thousands of seabirds return to Flamborough’s 100ft high chalk cliffs, to nest and rear their chicks on the precarious ledges. Brian Lavelle, one of our Living Landscape Managers shares his top tips for exploring Flamborough Cliffs nature reserve (and his favourite place in Yorkshire), so you too can enjoy this seasonal highlight.

Whether you’re simply after fresh air and exercise, want to see a wildlife spectacle, enjoy beautiful flowers or amazing views, Flamborough Cliffs nature reserve is a great place to visit! My starting point for discovering this reserve is Flamborough’s North Landing car park and the best time to visit to see the cliffs fully populated with seabirds is late April – July.

Finding Yorkshire’s Seabird City

To reach the ‘Seabird City’ (one of Europe’s most important colonies), you need to head from the car park towards the café and follow the path round to the left and in front of some cottages. Follow this path out to the headland with our sheep grazed fields to your right and the cliffs to your left.

If you want a shorter walk and can’t wait to see the birds, turn right once the clifftop levels out and follow the fence line past the wildflower meadows on your left. (We cut these meadows so orchids can flourish here in summer). By now you will probably be able to follow your nose, as the smell is something else! Tens of thousands of birds makes for a lot of fishy guano and the wind blows it up from the cliffs. 

You start to hear the calls of the razorbills and guillemots as you get nearer but you can’t see them yet… Look out to sea at this point as you may get a great view of gannets elegantly flying past at eye height as they head up the coast.

Follow the path along the coast and you’ll come across two coves. The second is Breil Nook which offers the most spectacular views of thousands of birds wheeling and calling, and doing aerobatics as they brake suddenly to land on the cliff face!

Puffins, razorbills and guillemots, are all tucked together like mussels along the cracks and fault-lines of the stunning white, chalk cliffs. With binoculars you can often see their eggs or fluffy chicks on the ledges – and get excellent views of brightly coloured puffins, smart-looking razorbills and chocolate brown guillemots. All three are members of the auk family. On a clear day you can see the birds rafting out at sea, or if you’re patient, watch them dart underwater in the crystal-clear water of the nooks.

A different view point

If you are visiting early evening on a warm May day, it’s well worth heading down to the beach at North Landing as you may just be rewarded… Once on the beach, carefully head out to the right on the exposed rocks and find a hidden a nook in the cliffs. This is where many of the puffins nest and if you’re lucky, you will see them flying in and out to sea – so close you feel you can almost touch them. They plummet off the cliffs in a clumsy glide, frantically flapping as they whir very close over your heads and out the sea, calling as they go, which is an amazing treat.
Do be careful of the tides as they can come in quickly and always keep a safe distance from the birds, particularly if you have a dog (on a lead) with you. 

Flamborough Cliffs nature reserve really is one of our best wild places – an iconic destination for Yorkshire and a place we can all help to protect as well as enjoy.

The walk to Breil Nook is 1km from North Landing car park. The cliff top terrain is fairly hilly with steep slopes to beaches and through coastal ‘guts’ or narrow valleys. Paths away from the car park are grassy or worn to clay and can become muddy in wet weather. Some small sections of path are surfaced with chalk gravel. There are no gates between North Landing and Breil Nook, and no benches on the clifftops.