Flamborough Head

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The chalk tower near Flamborough Head. Built in 1669, this is the oldest surviving complete lighthouse in England

Flamborough Head is a promontory of 8 miles (13 km) on the Yorkshire coast of England, between the Filey and Bridlington bays of the North Sea. It is a chalk headland, with sheer white cliffs. The cliff top has two standing lighthouse towers, the first dating to 1669 and Flamborough Head Lighthouse built in 1806. The former was designated in 1952 by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building.[1] The cliffs themselves provide nesting sites for many thousands of seabirds, and are of international significance for their geology.

Special Area of Conservation[edit]

Flamborough Head has been designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) by the British Government's Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). (Special Areas of Conservation are strictly protected sites designated under the European Community Habitats Directive, which requires the establishment of a European network of important high-quality conservation sites to make a significant contribution to conserving the 189 habitat types and 788 species identified in Annexes to this Directive.) Flamborough Outer Headland is an 83 hectares (210 acres) Local Nature Reserve.[2][3]

Site of Special Scientific Interest[edit]

The cliffs at Flamborough Head are designated as an Site of Special Scientific Interest for both geological and biological significance. First designated in 1952, the SSSI area now extends from Sewerby round the headland to Reighton Sands.[4] The estimated 200,000 nesting seabirds, including one of only two mainland British gannetries,[5] are the most notable biological feature.[6]


Flamborough Head is located in East Riding of Yorkshire
Flamborough Head
Flamborough Head
Flamborough Head in the East Riding of Yorkshire

The headland is Britain's only northern chalk sea cliff. The coastline within the SSSI has strata from the upper Jurassic through to top of the Cretaceous period, with the headland exhibiting a complete sequence of Chalk Group North Sea Basin strata, dated from 100 to 70 million years ago. The various chalk deposits are known as the Ferriby, Welton, Burnham and Flamborough Chalk.[6] The dramatic white cliffs contrast with the low coast of Holderness to the south, where the chalk is deeply buried and the glacial boulder clay erodes very readily.[7] The chalk cliffs have a larger number and a wider range of cave habitats at Flamborough than at any other chalk site in Britain, the largest of which are known to extend for more than 50 m from their entrance on the coast. There are also stacks, arches and blowholes. The site is identified as being of international importance in the Geological Conservation Review.[6]


Seagulls such as Northern Gannets, Kittiwakes and Atlantic Puffins breed abundantly on the cliffs.[6] Bempton Cliffs, on the north side of the headland, has an RSPB reserve and visitor centre.[8] The shooting of seabirds at Flamborough Head was condemned by Professor Alfred Newton in his 1868 speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Local MP Christopher Sykes introduced the Sea Birds Preservation Act 1869, the first Act to protect wild birds in the United Kingdom.[9]

Because it projects into the sea, Flamborough Head attracts many migrant birds in autumn, and also has a key point for observing passing seabirds. When the wind is in the east, many birders watch for seabirds from below the lighthouse, or later in the autumn comb the hedges and valleys for landbird migrants. Flamborough Head also has a bird observatory.

Battle of Flamborough Head 1779[edit]

A Franco-American squadron fought the Battle of Flamborough Head with a pair of Royal Navy frigates in the American Revolutionary War on 23 September 1779. In the engagement, USS Bonhomme Richard and Pallas, with USS Alliance, captured HMS Serapis and HM hired ship Countess of Scarborough, the best-known incident of Capt. John Paul Jones's naval career. The toposcope at the lighthouse commemorates the 180th anniversary of the battle.

North landing, Flamborough Head, c. 1880. Photo National Maritime Museum, ID: G2381

Danes Dyke[edit]

Danes Dyke is a 2-mile (3.2 km) long ditch that runs north and south isolating the seaward 5 square miles (13 km2) of the headland. The dyke and the steep cliffs make the enclosed territory and its two boat launching beaches, North and South Landings, easily defended. Despite its name, the dyke is prehistoric in origin, and Bronze Age arrowheads were found when it was excavated by Major-General Augustus Pitt-Rivers in 1879. It is a Local Nature Reserve.[10][11]

Cultural references[edit]

Flamborough Head and the village of Flamborough are the setting for the book Bill Takes the Helm by Betty Bowen.[12] In the book an American boy struggles to save his grandmother's house – in which he, his sister and grandmother are living – from destruction by the sea. He is also desperately trying to get used to England after the death of his mother, who requested in her will that he be sent there.

Flamborough Head was featured on the television programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of Yorkshire and briefly in the first series of Coast.

Flamborough Head was also featured in the finale of series 3 of the ITV drama Scott & Bailey.

Lightning strike[edit]

During the evening of 23 August 2006, a lightning bolt hit a buttress on the cliffs, sending 100 tonnes of rock into the sea.[13]


  1. ^ English Heritage. "The Old Lighthouse (1083400)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 15 August 2013 .
  2. ^ "Flamborough Outer Headland". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  3. ^ "Map of Flamborough Outer Headland". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. 
  4. ^ "Map of Flamborough Head". Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. 
  5. ^ RSPB Birdguide: Gannet Accessed 14 December 2012
  6. ^ a b c d Natural England SSSI citation sheet for Flamborough Head, 1986
  7. ^ English Nature (November 1977). "The Plain of Holderness Natural Area Profile" (PDF). Retrieved 16 September 2007. 
  8. ^ The RSPB: Bempton Cliffs. Retrieved 16 October 2010
  9. ^ Barclay-Smith, Phyllis (1959): The British contribution to bird protection Ibis 101(1):pp. 115–122
  10. ^ "Danes Dyke". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 4 August 2013. 
  11. ^ "Map of Danes Dyke". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 4 August 2013. 
  12. ^ Betty Bowen (1955). Bill Takes the Helm. London, England: Burke Publishing Company. 
  13. ^ Lightning strike damages cliffs

External links[edit]

Media related to Flamborough Head at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 54°06′58″N 0°04′59″W / 54.11599°N 0.08305°W / 54.11599; -0.08305