A new era dawns for Yorkshire coastal bird haven

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THEY HAVE long been regarded by those in the know as one of Yorkshire’s best kept secrets.

The towering cliffs stretching from Flamborough Head up towards Filey, some standing at more than 300ft, are packed with headlands and crevices which offer the perfect breeding spots for seabirds.

The birds flock to the cliffs in their hundreds of thousands to nest, and include puffins, gannets and about ten percent of the UK’s kittiwakes population.

And now a new facility has been opened at Bempton Cliffs which it is hoped will encourage people from Yorkshire to visit and appreciate what they have on their doorstep – and also bring in tourists from further afield.

The Bempton Cliffs Seabird Centre was officially opened yesterday, and the assembled guests included an actor playing a clergyman whose actions more than 150 years ago were crucial in protecting the seabirds which have used the site for centuries.

He was in the role of the Rev Henry Barnes-Lawrence, of Bridlington Priory, who made a call to stop the ritual slaughtering of thousands of birds in the area each year.

Jo Allen the 'Wildlife Experience Officer at RSPB Bempton.

Jo Allen the 'Wildlife Experience Officer at RSPB Bempton.

In the 1850s, shooting parties would be brought in on boats with the aim of killing the birds. It was done on a massive scale, with some of the feathers being sold to factories, while others regarded it as sport, and the spectacle would attract large crowds.

But Barnes-Lawrence had grave concerns. He felt it was morally wrong, and he gathered support from other clergy and local landowners, and formed the Association for the Protection of SeaBirds. The group’s lobbying brought about the 1869 Seabirds Preservation Act, the first laws protecting wild birds, and played a crucial role in protecting the species which frequent Bempton in such huge numbers today.

Although yesterday marked the official opening, the new centre has been running since Easter and has already proved extremely popular.

Bempton Cliffs site manager Keith Clarkson said: “Since opening the new centre in April we have had a phenomenal response from our visitors. The additional indoor space we now have means we can tell the story of the rich cultural and natural heritage of this section of the Yorkshire coast, and engage more people with the history of the area.”

Angela Belk, Tony Mayman, Peter Riby at RSPB Bempton Official Opening.

Angela Belk, Tony Mayman, Peter Riby at RSPB Bempton Official Opening.

Since opening, some 35,000 visitors have been to the site, and 750 new members have joined the RSPB.

There have also been 27 school visits, and during the rest of the year, staff at the reserve aim to introduce 2,000 children to the stunning views and coastal wildlife in the area.

The RSPB hopes the site will become an internationally important wildlife tourism destination, and help safeguard important seabird colonies.

The new visitor centre is open daily from 9.30am to 5pm in the summer and 9.30am to 4pm in winter. For more information, visit www.rspb.org.uk/bemptoncliffs or call the reserve on 01262 422212.

Linda Mckenzie at RSPB Bempton Official Opening.

Linda Mckenzie at RSPB Bempton Official Opening.