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Shining a light on gannet numbers at RSPB Bempton Cliffs

Last modified: 16 October 2012

Gannet pair preening on Bass Rock

Bempton Cliffs is the UK's largest mainland breeding colony.

Image: Andy Hay

Gannet numbers at RSPB Bempton Cliffs have soared in the last three years.

Research this summer has revealed that since 2009, there has been a remarkable rise of 40% in the number of birds breeding on the sheer chalk cliffs at the nature reserve between Bridlington and Filey, which is the UK’s largest mainland breeding gannet colony.

Previous surveys by RSPB staff and volunteers have shown a year-on-year growth since records began in 1969, when there were only 22 pairs at Bempton Cliffs. 

But this year’s figures reveal there are now 11,061 breeding pairs, a leap of 3,202 pairs since the last survey in 2009.

The researchers also counted 798 non-breeding birds, which, when they are old enough to find mates, will add to the numbers which turn the cliffs into an amazing wildlife spectacle throughout spring and summer.

Assistant Warden David Aitken, who led the boat-based survey that recorded the figures, is thrilled that these spectacular birds are going from strength to strength.

“Gannets and some other seabirds can fly huge distances – sometimes as far as 600km round trips – in their search for food,” he said.

“This is one of the reasons why vital offshore Marine Protected Areas are needed to safeguard not just seabirds but also other sealife and the important areas where they feed. 

“The RSPB’s fight to ensure adequate protection for our marine environment is hugely important. While gannets are on the increase at Bempton Cliffs, the fortunes of seabirds across the UK are mixed, with some suffering dramatic declines,” he added.

Gannets are only found breeding on the cliffs at Bempton, and not at nearby Flamborough or Filey, because the type of ledges and shelves on this part of the cliff face are just right for building safe, secure nests.”

In July, researchers discovered a bird on the nature reserve which had come all the way from Jersey.   

“We have had birds from Bass Rock in Scotland before but never, to our knowledge, one from so far south,” said Dave.  “As we learn more and more about Bempton’s amazing seabirds, we build up a more detailed picture of the actions that need to be taken to ensure a brighter future for our marine wildlife.”

The growing number of gannets in the colony is bringing an added bonus for photographers. This year, birds have gathered in ever-bigger numbers almost next to the cliff-top path and close to specially-built viewing platforms. 

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Current proposals to create marine protected areas in the waters of each country offer almost no protection for seabirds. With the support of people like you, we can continue to fight for better protection for our seas.

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