Last chance to secure protection for Britain's seabirds
As the UK Government considers the designation of new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for wildlife such as dolphins, turtles and fish, the RSPB is urging them to consider also designating six areas of sea in order to provide a safe haven in the most important places for Puffins, Kittiwakes and other iconic seabirds to thrive.
MCZs are areas around England’s seas and coasts that protect a range of nationally important, rare or threatened habitats and species. Existing MCZs offer protection for the creatures that live on the seabed, but there is nothing in place to help the seabirds which rely on these waters. To species such as Puffin and Razorbill, areas like Lundy (off the coast of Devon) and the Cumbrian coast are essential feeding grounds, and therefore need protecting to ensure they aren't lost to us.
Martin Harper, RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: “The UK’s coastline is of immense value to wildlife and people. An estimated 270 million day trips are made to our seaside each year and it’s always been an important and exciting place for people to explore and relax in. Almost half of all UK wildlife can be found here, with everything from mammals, [invertebrates] and plants making their home on the coast, and the seas surrounding our islands are vital for our seabirds.
“On land, English nesting seabirds are protected from human activities such as development and disturbance. However, when they leave their colonies and travel out to sea, most of the vital areas they use for feeding, preening and resting are not currently safeguarded in the same way.
“It was previously believed to be impossible to identify areas of sea that should be protected for seabirds but our innovative tracking work has identified the areas they go back to again and again to forage for food, for themselves and their chicks. It’s vital the government acts now to protect seabirds at sea to help halt the alarming decline that’s already happening.”
The UK’s rich waters provide feeding grounds for millions of seabirds and their hungry chicks, including some of the most important seabird colonies in the world. However, according to the recent State of Nature 2016 report, more than 25 per cent of coastal breeding birds are red-listed as birds of highest conservation priority in the UK meaning they require urgent action.
Jeff Knott, RSPB’s Head of Nature Policy, said: “Despite the UK Government committing to create a network of MCZs by 2016 that protect the full wealth of the UK’s marine environment, there are currently only 50 designated in waters around England – less than half of the recommended 127 sites proposed in 2011 – and disappointingly none of these provide any direct protection for our important seabird populations.”
The existing 50 MCZs were designated in two phases following consultation processes. The UK Government also announced that a third and final phase of designating new MCZs will be consulted on in 2017 and designated in 2018, with the aim of completing the UK 'Blue Belt'.
Martin continued: “It’s crucial that, as well as protecting the sea creatures below the surface, we safeguard our wonderful wildlife above. We believe protected conservation areas are a vital tool to secure a future for our seabirds and help make colonies more resilient to the threats they face such as the impacts of climate change.”