In late May, Yorkshire’s seabirds received some special visitors seeking to learn more about this special coastline and its inhabitants. Despite the fog, the cliffs of Bempton and Flamborough provided a spectacular setting to discuss how marine planning can help our sealife.   

The visit by marine planners from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), was hosted by the RSPB, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) and Flamborough Head Management Scheme.

Left to right: Amy Balding (MMO), Ali Barratt (RSPB), Zoe MacKay (MMO), Heather Davison (Flamborough Head Management Scheme), Bex Lynam (YWT), Ana Cowie (YWT) © Helen Quayle

The MMO is developing marine plans for England’s seas. These plans will:

  • Set out priorities and directions for future development.
  • Inform sustainable use of marine resources.
  • Help marine users understand the best locations for their activities.

The development of marine plans is a significant step in protecting our sealife and the MMO welcomes input from all stakeholders.

The Yorkshire coast is a particularly important area for seabirds which nest on 400ft chalk cliffs stretching 17 miles from Bridlington to the north of Filey. Every year, gannets, kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills, guillemots and fulmar return here to nest. Counts in 2017, revealed these are home to nearly 300,000 seabirds rearing over 100,000 chicks making it the largest mainland seabird colony in the UK.

RSPB Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head © Helen Quayle.

Looking out to sea from the cliffs, hundreds of birds can be seen bobbing on the waves and travelling back and forth in search of food – some travelling hundreds of kilometres. Below the waves Yorkshire’s seas are home to minke whales, harbour porpoise, octopus, lobsters, common and grey seals, over 100 species of seaweed including kelp forests, sea squirts, mussels and fish such as plaice and sandeel (sandeels are a favourite food for seabirds including puffins and kittiwakes). 

Yorkshire’s cliffs offer a safe place to nest, but to ensure that seabirds have access to plentiful food supplies, the waters where they feed also need protection. We hope that marine planning, alongside other work to conserve sealife, including the creation of protected areas, will help to secure the future of this colony and others.

Puffin © Ben Andrew

Zoe Mackay, Marine Planner (North East) said: “Our visit to Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs was a fantastic opportunity to see one of many very special parts of the north east marine plan area.  Despite the recent poor weather conditions, the site housed thousands of nesting birds including puffins and the largest breeding population of gannets in the UK, which was an incredible sight to behold.”

The visit gave the marine planning team insight into how successful management plans, and positive working relationships between the site managers and marine users, have led to a combined effort to both protect the site and allow appropriate access for tourism and recreational users.”

Marine planning is also taking place in Scotland, Ireland and Wales and it will be important that marine planners consider how plans will work alongside each other as well as considering the movements of sealife and migrating birds across plan areas.