Rock pools and sea, looking up Belfast Lough with Grey Point fort outpost

Cliffs and beaches

The sights, sounds and smells of a seabird colony in spring and summer are enough to overload your senses. This is just one example of our wonderful coastal habitat at its best.

What makes this habitat different?

  • Cliffs make great nest spots for seabirds because predators can't get to them. Seabirds can fly onto ledges where they're safe from foxes and rats that might try and eat their eggs or chicks. 
  • Many seabirds such as the razorbill (which wins in the coolest name category!) only come to land to breed on cliffs, the rest of the time they live on open water.
  • On clifftops you can find special, hardy plants like thrift with its pink-purple flowers like mini pom-poms, or roseroot, with its distinctive star-shaped leaf pattern.
  • Beaches are important feeding sites for birds like sanderlings, turnstones and oystercatchers. When the tide goes out, wet sand is exposed. It’s full of tasty critters like lugworms which are perfect for these shorebirds to pluck out. Yummy!   

What lives there?

There's so much to see, hear, touch and smell on a visit to the coast. There's no escaping the smell of fish at a seabird nesting colony, and the racket created by thousands of shrieking birds is something else. 

Looking out to sea you could see seals, whales, dolphins, or even a basking shark at the right spot. But if all else fails, there's always the sensory delights evoked by a walk on a beach. Imagine sand between your toes, waves washing towards you and maybe fish and chips (sustainable of course!)...

Our coasts are internationally important for breeding seabirds. Gannets are the biggest and perhaps most spectacular - they're the size of a goose and striking in black and white - and can be seen diving headfirst into the sea after fish. Guillemots and razorbills often crowd cliff faces, and everybody loves to see puffins.

On western coasts, you might be lucky enough to see choughs - glossy, black crows with bright orange beaks and legs.

Exploring the contents of a rockpool, or picking up shells and seaweed are brilliant ways to get to know nature.

Why are they in trouble?

Too much fishing

Fishing is the thing humans do that has the biggest effect on sealife around the UK and the world. By taking more fish than the sea can produce, the number of fish in our oceans is going down. This has powerful knock-on impacts for all the other animals that rely on the sea for food.

Climate change

As the planet gets warmer through climate change, animals that are used to living in cold water - like tiny sand eels - have to travel further north to survive. This means the coastal animals that feed on them such as puffins are stuck with less food. 


If oil spills get on seabirds feathers it can stop them from being able to swim or fly and they can starve to death. Dropping litter can also damage the sea, plastic can take 20-1000 years to decompose!

See it for yourself!

Bustling colonies of seabirds, beautiful beaches and lagoons packed with waders and wildfowl guarantee a memorable visit to our coastal reserves. You can also experience the thrill of seeing long-distance migrant birds dropping in to rest and feed on their epic journeys.

Coastal reserves

To find out more, pick a marker from the map or zoom in.
    • Adur Estuary

      Adur Estuary

      The small reserve is composed of saltmarsh and mudflats that afford a good feeding and roosting site for waders and wildfowl. The reserve has no facilities as such, but it can be viewed from surrounding footpaths and Coronation Green.

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    • Bempton Cliffs

      Bempton Cliffs

      A family favourite, and easily the best place in England to see, hear and smell seabirds! More than 250,000 birds (from April to August) make the cliffs seem alive.

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    • Bowling Green and Goosemoor

      Bowling Green and Goosemoor

      This is on the east bank of the Exe Estuary, within easy walking distance of both Topsham High Street and our shop at Darts Farm. It overlooks the Clyst and allows over-wintering birds a choice of safe roosting sites.

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    • Boyton and Hollesley Marshes

      Boyton and Hollesley Marshes

      Situated between the Butley river and Ore estuary, Boyton Marshes attracts breeding wading birds in spring and ducks, geese and swans in winter. It's also great for watching owls, butterflies and dragonflies.

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    • Brading Marshes

      Brading Marshes

      This is the RSPB's first reserve on the Isle of Wight. It covers most of the beautiful valley of the lower River Yar running from the village of Brading to the sea at Bembridge Harbour.

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    • Buckenham Marshes

      Buckenham Marshes

      This is a traditionally-managed grazing marsh with large numbers of breeding wading birds, and ducks and geese in winter. The reserve also often boasts the only regular winter flock of bean geese in England (November to February).

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    • Campfield Marsh

      Campfield Marsh

      The reserve is made up of a mosaic of saltmarsh, peatbogs, farmland and wet grassland providing homes for a great variety of native wildlife. Trails lead to a wheelchair accessible hide looking out over the main wet grassland area.

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    • Cliffe Pools

      Cliffe Pools

      A spectacular landscape of open water and big skies. The reserve is one of the most important places for wildlife in the UK with huge flocks of wetland birds. A number of nature trails cross the reserve, affording great views.

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    • Coquet Island

      Coquet Island

      This important seabird colony is one mile off the Northumberland coast. No landing is possible on the island, but during the breeding season you can get close-up views of the birds by taking a boat trip around the island.

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    • Dingle Marshes

      Dingle Marshes

      Dingle Marshes is a superb mixture of coastal and freshwater habitats bordered by forest and heathland.

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    • Dungeness


      If you haven't been to Dungeness, nothing can quite prepare you for this landscape - mile after mile of shingle, wild and weird!

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    • Fowlmere


      The reedbeds and pools here are fed by natural chalk springs, and a chalk stream runs through the reserve. Special birds include kingfishers, water rails, and nine species of warblers, including sedge, reed and grasshopper warblers.

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    • Frampton Marsh

      Frampton Marsh

      A major new extension to this coastal wetland reserve includes a reedbed, large freshwater scrapes and wet grassland. These habitats have all been created to bring the wildlife of The Wash closer to you.

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    • Rathlin Island

      Rathlin Island

      Rathlin Island has a rare, untamed beauty. The wildlife is evident before you step ashore - the ferry crossing presents many opportunities to spot auks, gannets and gulls with even a chance of porpoises or dolphins.

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    • Freiston Shore

      Freiston Shore

      At Freiston Shore you can get excellent views of waterbirds on the salt water lagoon, especially at high tide when wading birds roost, sometimes in their thousands.

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    • Havergate Island

      Havergate Island

      This small island in the River Ore is famous for its breeding avocets and terns, which can be seen throughout the spring and summer. Access is by boat only and the trip to the island helps you really feel you're getting away from it all.

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    • Hayle Estuary

      Hayle Estuary

      In cold winters, as many as 18,000 birds have been seen here, because this most south westerly estuary in the UK never freezes. During spring and autumn, it is an ideal place to see migrant wading birds, gulls and terns.

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    • Morecambe Bay - Hest Bank

      Morecambe Bay - Hest Bank

      The sandflats and saltmarshes of Morecambe Bay are vital feeding grounds for a quarter of a million wading birds, ducks and geese. During the hour before high tide, spectacular flocks of waders gather to roost at Hest Bank.

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    • Leighton Moss

      Leighton Moss

      The largest reedbed in north-west England, and home to some really special birds such as breeding bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers. You might see deer too, not to mention butterflies aplenty!

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    • Lodmoor


      The large reedbed, open water, saltmarsh, wet grassland and bushes attract many different birds. Bearded tits and Cetti's warblers can be seen all year and autumn migration can be spectacular.

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    • Marazion Marsh

      Marazion Marsh

      This reserve overlooks the beautiful St Michael's Mount and boasts Cornwall's largest reedbed. More than 250 bird, 500 plant, 500 insect and 18 mammal species have been recorded here and bitterns are now regular winter visitors.

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    • Marshside


      There's something for everyone all year round at this delightful coastal reserve. In the spring you can see brown hares boxing in the fields, while in the early summer you'll spot nesting birds like avocets and lapwings.

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    • Minsmere


      There's so much to see and hear at Minsmere: splendid woodland, wetland and coastal scenery, rare birds breeding and calling in on their migrations, shy wildlife like otters, the 'booming' of bitterns in spring, beautiful bugs and flowers.

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    • North Warren

      North Warren

      This delightful reserve contains grazing marshes, reedbeds, heathland and woodland. Thousands of ducks, swans and geese use the marshes in winter, while spring brings breeding bitterns, marsh harriers, woodlarks and nightingales.

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    • Pilsey Island

      Pilsey Island

      This small reserve comprises a wide range of coastal habitats. As well as large numbers of roosting birds, an impressive variety of unusual plants, spiders and insects exist on the reserve, thriving in the undisturbed habitats.

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    • Fairhaven Lake Visitor Centre

      Fairhaven Lake Visitor Centre

      Come to our visitor centre on the edge of Fairhaven Lake. It's the gateway to the north side of the Ribble Estuary - the most important single river estuary in the UK - which attracts over 270,000 birds each year.

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    • Snettisham


      This is the place to witness two of the UK's great wildlife spectacles: tens of thousands of wading birds wheeling over the mudflats, or packed onto banks and islands in front of our hides at high tide.

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    • Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve

      Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve

      Pagham Harbour is a glorious and peaceful nature reserve, one of the few undeveloped stretches of the Sussex coast, and an internationally important wetland site for wildlife.

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    • Old Hall Marshes

      Old Hall Marshes

      Our reserve here comprises extensive grazing marshes with brackish water fleets, reedbeds, saltmarsh and two offshore islands. In winter, thousands of wildfowl come here and summer sees breeding waders.

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    • Nor Marsh and Motney Hill

      Nor Marsh and Motney Hill

      A saltmarsh island in the Medway Estuary. To the east is Motney Hill, another area of mud and saltmarsh. In winter at both sites, large numbers of wildfowl can be seen. In spring and autumn, look out for black-tailed godwits.

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    • Medmerry


      Welcome to what is set to be our newest nature reserve. Medmerry offers long walks and cycle rides through an amazing new landscape only a stone's throw from Pagham Harbour.

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    • Langstone Harbour

      Langstone Harbour

      A muddy estuary that attracts large numbers of birds all year-round. Terns, gulls and wading birds descend to breed on the islands in spring and summer, while thousands of waders and brent geese migrate from the Arctic.

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    • Hesketh Out Marsh

      Hesketh Out Marsh

      This new saltmarsh reserve is a great place to admire wildfowl and wading birds in winter, and breeding waders in spring and summer. As recently as 2006, the land was used for growing crops.

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    • Ramsey Island

      Ramsey Island

      This dramatic offshore island has cliffs up to 120 m high, the perfect place for breeding seabirds in spring and early summer. Walk along the coastal heathland and enjoy the spectacular views.

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    • South Essex Wildlife Garden

      South Essex Wildlife Garden

      The Wildlife Garden and Visitor Centre are located within Basildon District Council's Wat Tyler Country Park and are the gateway to our South Essex reserves.

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    • St Bees Head

      St Bees Head

      Blow away the cobwebs with a bracing walk along the clifftop path - you can see the Isle of Man on a clear day. In spring and summer, you'll want to stop at our three viewpoints to marvel at the largest seabird colony in north-west England.

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    • Titchwell Marsh

      Titchwell Marsh

      This popular reserve on the north Norfolk coast has something for everyone. A walk from the visitor centre down to the sandy beach takes you past reedbeds and shallow lagoons, which are often full of birds.

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    • Wallasea Island Wild Coast project

      Wallasea Island Wild Coast project

      This is a landmark conservation and engineering scheme for the 21st century, on a scale never before attempted in the UK and the largest of its type in Europe.

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    • West Canvey Marsh

      West Canvey Marsh

      This is the largest single area of green space on Canvey Island. This wonderful wetland reserve includes nearly two miles (3 km) of new nature trails, three viewing points, a picnic area and children's adventure area.

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    • Troup Head

      Troup Head

      The high cliffs of Troup Head provide a spectacular setting for Scotland's largest mainland gannet colony. There are also thousands of kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, along with several other species, including puffins.

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    • The Oa

      The Oa

      Rugged coastline and open moorland. The diversity of landscapes make this reserve a pleasure to visit. If you're new to birdwatching, why not come on one of our guided walks - you might see a rare chough or perhaps a golden eagle.

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    • Noup Cliffs

      Noup Cliffs

      Reaching over 76 metres above the sea, these dramatic cliffs house Orkney's largest seabird colony. Once seen, it's never forgotten! Walk along the cliff path in the summer and you'll see an array of wildflowers.

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    • Nigg Bay

      Nigg Bay

      Nigg Bay is an extensive area of mudflat, saltmarsh and wet grassland on the Cromarty Firth. Visit any time between October and March and you're sure to see countless wading birds, such as bar-tailed godwits and knots.

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    • Mersehead


      Discover the breathtaking scenery and wildlife that's typical of this region. Stroll along the nature trails and use the viewing hides to explore at your own pace.

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    • Marwick Head

      Marwick Head

      This remote headland has spectacular displays of wild flowers, including sea campion, thrift and spring squill. In spring and summer, thousands of seabirds nest on the cliffs. In August, look out for great yellow bumblebees.

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    • Loch na Muilne

      Loch na Muilne

      This is a fantastic place to see a variety of breeding birds. During spring and summer, its most special inhabitants are red-necked phalaropes - tiny wading birds which feed by swimming on the loch in search of insects.

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    • Fowlsheugh


      If you're new to birdwatching, what better way to see the beauty of birds close up than by visiting a seabird cliff colony? The spectacular cliffs at Fowlsheugh are packed with 130,000 breeding seabirds in the spring and summer.

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    • Culbin Sands

      Culbin Sands

      Truly get away from it all at this remote and unspoilt reserve. Come during the winter and you'll see sea ducks feeding offshore, while from late summer to late spring, large numbers of bar-tailed godwits, oystercatchers and knots flock.

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    • Ailsa Craig

      Ailsa Craig

      Ailsa Craig lies nine miles offshore, rising to 1,109 feet. The dramatic seacliffs are home to the third largest gannetry in the UK - comprising 36,000 pairs - with a supporting cast of guillemots, razorbills, black guillemots and puffins.

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