If you live in the UK and you’re an active wildlife photographer, you must have heard of Bempton Cliffs in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It’s a nature reserve run by the RSPB and it’s best known for its nesting seabirds and majestic landscape.
This beautiful reserve is home to one of the UK’s top wildlife spectacles. Around half a million seabirds gather here every year between spring and autumn to raise their young on towering chalk cliffs which overlook the North Sea. The species that can be observed throughout the breeding season include northern gannet, Atlantic puffin, razorbill, common guillemot, black-legged kittiwake and fulmar.
I decided to visit the reserve in July, a bit late in the breeding season but still a good time to see the birds. Surprisingly, Bempton Cliffs is only about an hour and a half drive from Leeds and if you don’t drive you can still get there with a train to Bempton railway station and a pleasent 30 minute walk.
The seabird breeding season starts in spring so if you want to make sure you’ll see all the different species, this is probably the best time to visit. By the time I visited almost all the puffins were gone already, but there were still plenty of gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills.
Another aspect to consider is the heat: although I really enjoyed my visit at the reserve, I picked a really warm day which caused an outbreak of annoying small black insects that were literally all over the place – and the visitors. Visiting in spring or early summer should prevent this issue and also make the long walk a little less tiring on a sunny day.
That said, this place is absolutely incredible! As I approached the cliff edges I could appreciate the sound of thousands of chattering seabirds, each with their own peculiar voice, and I remain enchanted by the sight of the majestic gannets flying in all directions and diving into the sea at full speed.
To photograph the birds I recommend a focal lenght of at least 300mm on APS-C and 400mm on full frame. Although I normally shoot on a full frame dslr, this time I used my old Canon 7D paired with the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L lens and I was quite happy with the results.
Altogether, I think the RSPB is doing a great job managing the reserve and I was very impressed with the amount of wildlife that can be observed. Plus the scenary from the cliff edge is breathtaking and it seems almost impossible that such a place can exist only an hour away from major urban centres.
A pleasant discovery was that the footpath that runs all along the cliff tops continues outside of the reserve and it’s possible to walk all the way to Flamborough, Filey and other locations along the Yorkshire coast. But I’ll tell you more in the future!