Record numbers of visitors flock to East Yorkshire to watch wildlife

(c) Bill Richards

The number of visits to East Yorkshire nature reserves by wildlife watchers has more than doubled in the last eight years, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust announced today.

Initial findings from research conducted by Leeds Beckett University also revealed that the value of wildlife watching trips has increased from £9 million to £24 million a year during this time.

Many people pass through East Yorkshire’s rolling countryside in a bid to reach popular beach resorts like Bridlington and Filey, especially in the summer. However, stunning wildlife including the spectacle of spring and autumn bird migrations and a wide variety of dazzling, easily accessible nature reserves across East Yorkshire, are now attracting year-round visits. Star species include charismatic puffins on Flamborough Headland and England’s largest mainland gannet colony at RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Last year was a record year for whale and dolphin sightings in Yorkshire and seals can be spotted along the length of the coast. Inland, otters and kingfishers are the top attractions at Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low Nature Reserve.

Most visitor numbers have increased at reserves where new visitor facilities have opened - including Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Centre at Flamborough and at Tophill Low Nature Reserve. The majority of visits were day trips from home and a third of people interviewed were holidaying in the area.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive, Dr Rob Stoneman said: “East Yorkshire is one of the best corners of the UK to watch wildlife and enjoy the outdoors, as more and more people are discovering. From our stunning coastline to the peaceful and historic Wolds, visitors will find spectacular places to see wildlife alongside all the creature comforts they might want or need. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, alongside others including Yorkshire Water, RSPB and East Riding of Yorkshire Council, are investing in and promoting nature reserves and visitor facilities so that everyone can enjoy, learn about and ultimately care for our wildlife and wild spaces.” 

Sir Gary Verity DL, Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “This is wonderful news for East Yorkshire and it’s no surprise that this stunning part of the county, with its beautiful unspoilt beaches, picturesque landscape and impressive wildlife, is attracting such a significant increase in tourists. The boost received by local businesses in the area, as a result of the growing number of people visiting, is hugely encouraging and great for the morale and continuing success of the region’s tourism service providers.”

Professor Rhodri Thomas, Dean of Leeds Beckett's School of Events, Tourism, Events and Hospitality Management, said "This study helps confirm that, if managed sensitively, tourism can support environmentally important projects to contribute to the local economy. As a school of events, tourism and hospitality management, we feel it’s important to help local stakeholders gather evidence of the impact of their activities. This will help them maximise the benefits and limit potential costs."

The findings reflect the national trend of more people making trips to watch wildlife. Growth is expected to continue over the coming years and tourism businesses in East Yorkshire are encouraged to engage with this expanding market. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and other environmental organisations have a wealth of information - including a Nature Tourism Business Toolkit - to help guests make the most of their visits.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust-led Yorkshire Nature Triangle project has also published three new spring wildlife-watching guides for East Yorkshire. These guides are available to help visitors make the most of a wild day, weekend or week on the Coast, Wolds or Humber. They are packed with spring time activities including where and when to see puffins, bluebell displays and information on boat trips.

East Yorkshire on the wildlife watching map – case studies

Flamborough Headland Heritage Coast

The attractive cliffs and coastline around Flamborough and Bempton are among the most popular and best land-based locations to watch seabirds in the UK. Puffins arrive to raise their young every May, clifftop paths command stunning views of the coastline and rock pools provide hours of exploration and discovery.

  • Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the RSPB revamped its visitor centre at Bempton Cliffs and created new education facilities in 2015. Visitor numbers have increased from 55,000 in 2009 to 105,000 in 2017. 
  • Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Centre at Flamborough opened in 2013, when over 10,500 people visited. This figure increased to 24,000 in 2017. With thanks to funding from LEADER programme, People’s Postcode Lottery, Esmee Fairburn Foundation, the Crown Estate, MMO, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Holderness Coast Flag, The Peter de Haan Charitable Trust and the Co-operative Membership Community Fund.

Tophill Low Nature Reserve

Yorkshire Water’s reserve near Driffield is popular with bird watchers and sightings of kingfisher are regularly reported. An impressive new heated viewing centre with educational facilities and access for all has enabled more visitors to enjoy wildlife watching throughout the winter. Visitor numbers here have increased from 7,000 in 2009, to 15,000 in 2017.

Spurn Discovery Centre

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s award-winning Discovery Centre at Spurn National Nature Reserve opened in March 2018 and has welcomed over 40,000 visitors in its first ten months, compared to 20,000 to the reserve in 2013. The addition of a purpose-built education room, Spurn Safaris, specialist events and the newly renovated lighthouse, along with expert knowledge from staff and volunteers means more people are visiting and staying longer. This natural landmark is a beacon for thousands of migratory birds during spring and autumn, while the mudflats of the Humber Estuary attract enormous flocks of wading birds during winter months. Funding for the lighthouse was provided by Heritage Lottery Fund and Coastal Communities Fund. Discovery Centre funding was provided by E.ON and the Coastal Communities Fund.

Contact – Emma Lusby: 01904 659570 / 07795 644124 /

Photos of visitor centres and wildlife and wildlife footage is also available.

About the Yorkshire Nature Triangle

From the heart of the Yorkshire Wolds to the dramatic cliffs of the East Coast to the mighty Humber Estuary, East Yorkshire offers almost unrivalled wildlife experiences and encounters. With nature tourism markets on the rise globally, there is no better time to reveal the UK’s best kept wildlife secret! Yorkshire Nature Triangle is led by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and supported by the Coastal Communities Fund.