Alive with summer wildlife

Guillemot colony at Whitehaven Coast, Cumbria

It’s summer! What could be better than heading to the coast? Take a walk between Whitehaven and St Bees, making sure you stop occasionally (every few steps?) to just look and listen. The cliff top paths are simply teeming with wildlife.

The wild west

It’s hard to believe you’re stood in an area of huge industrial heritage, on the edge of one of West Cumbria’s largest towns. The first thing you will notice is the abundance and variety of wildflowers, from 6ft tall common valerian which perfumes the air around you, to a purple blaze of orchids, sweet pink thrift or tiny wild thyme which you need to get on your knees to appreciate.

Common Valerian in full scented bloom
Common Valerian at Whitehaven Coast, Cumbria
Common Valerian in full scented bloom

Ironically, the industrial spoil heaps tipped onto Whitehaven’s cliffs for years has created the perfect environment for wildflowers which thrive in nutrient-poor soils. In 2012 Whitehaven Coast became the most northerly site for grass vetchling, a wild flower that’s rare in Cumbria.

A Small Skipper basking in the sunshine
Small Skipper butterfly, Whitehaven, Cumbria
A Small Skipper basking in the sunshine

Flutter by

Gradually you will become aware of the flitting flights of moths and butterflies - a flash of red as first one then dozens of 5 spot burnet moths haphazardly cross your path. The colours and sounds, combined with the fabulous views across the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea, will stop you in your tracks, a lot. Don’t step on that painted lady that’s just landed in front of you on the path!

5 spot burnet moth, really catches the eye
5 Spot Burnet Moth at Whitehaven Coast, Cumbria
5 spot burnet moth, really catches the eye

Binoculars not essential

A cormorant looms large in the skies
Cormorant in flight at Whitehaven Coast, Cumbria
A cormorant looms large in the skies

You’ll start to get your eye in, and you’ll realise that there are cormorants flying overhead and of course lots of herring gulls, but what are those smaller black and white birds that keep swooping by the cliff edges? And hang on, now you really look, there seems to be hundreds of them, bobbing on the water and filling the air out at sea.

Feed me!
Herring gull parent and chick, Whitehaven, Cumbria
Feed me!

To get a closer look, seek out the RSPB’s viewing points and a whole world of seabirds opens up to you, and it might just take your breath away. Thousands of nesting birds bring the cliffs’ platforms and niches alive with activity, including England’s only breeding colony of black guillemots.

Budge up!
A seabird city of guillemots, Whitehaven Coast, Cumbria
Budge up!

So why not get out and explore the only stretch of Heritage Coast in North West England this summer? It’s full of hidden gems for you to discover. The nesting seabirds won’t be here all summer though, so be quick if you don’t want to miss them.

Download the full walk here or park your car at Haig Pit (CA28 9BG) and simply take a stroll.