What are SACs and SPAs?

Under European and UK law, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are designated to protected internationally-important species and wildlife.  When both an SAC and an SPA occur together in tidal waters, they are known as a European Marine Site (EMS).  Flamborough Head EMS forms part of the European-wide network of designated sites, known as Natura 2000, and the UK's Blue Belt of marine protected areas (MPAs).

The Flamborough Head EMS consists of the Flamborough Head SAC, the Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs SPA and the Flamborough and Filey Coast proposed SPA (currently awaiting final sign-off).  The site is also underpinned by two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).  For more information on the Flamborough and Filey Coast potential Special Protection Area (pSPA), click here.

What makes Flamborough and Filey special?

The two promontories of Flamborough and Filey sit on the border of the northern and southern bodies of the North Sea, known as the Flamborough Front.  Here, cold waters from the north meet warmer waters coming up from the south, generating an upwelling of nutrients which attracts a myriad of marine wildlife.  The sheer chalk cliffs of Flamborough and the stepped ledges of Filey's north cliffs create prime habitat for breeding seabirds.  The reef below Flamborough Head teams with life and supports a band of kelp forest, which is widely recognised as one of the most important ecosystems in the world.  As such, the protected area is a perfect storm of prime habitat, food and relative safety.  

Chalk Habitat

Flamborough Head is the most northerly outcrop of coastal chalk in Europe.  In 1996, it was submitted to the European Union as a candidate SAC for its:

Vegetated Sea Cliffs

Steep slopes fringing hard or soft coasts, created by past or present marine erosion, supporting a wide diversity of vegetation types with variable maritime influence. Read more...

Sea Caves

Formed by waves crashing against rocky coastline. Waves hit sea cliffs eroding the soil and rock, and after many years create sea caves. Read more...

Chalk Reefs

Chalk reef habitats are rich in marine life. Many animals and plants need to attach themselves to something solid for their survival. Read more...


In 1993, Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs was designated as an SPA for its internationally-important population of Kittiwakes.  In 2014, this protection was extended to include Gannet, Guillemot and Razorbill alongside the wider colony as a 'Seabird Assemblage'.  Furthermore, 2km of inshore waters and the north cliffs of Filey Brigg were protected.  A recent colony count (2017) indicated that this colony is one of the largest in the UK with:

  • 51,535 pairs of Kittiwakes
  • 13,392 pairs of Gannets
  • 60,877 pairs of Guillemots
  • 20,253 pairs of Razorbills
  • Over 300,000 regularly occurring migratory seabirds in total