New UK marine strategy will let seabirds down, says RSPB


The UK's coastline and isles are currently bustling with activity as the next generation of seabirds begins to emerge from eggs, while parents are busy out on feeding forays to meet their youngsters' demands.

However, the RSPB is concerned that a recent consultation on the UK Marine Strategy has revealed that UK governments are looking to write themselves a loophole, having failed to meet current commitments to halt population declines at our globally important seabird colonies.

Puffin, Lunga, Argyll (Michael Taylor).

Seabirds are a key indicator of the health of our seas and coastal environment, and this is reflected in the UK Marine Strategy. The Strategy was first published in 2012, setting out a legal duty for the governments of the UK to meet 15 measures to achieve Good Environmental Status by 2020.

However, the UK failed to meet 11 of those targets, with progress towards the goal of halting seabird decline worsening from the 2012 starting point. Seabird populations have continued to decline and 24 of the 25 UK-breeding species are listed as Red or Amber status on the UK list of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Kittiwake, Howick, Northumberland (Alan Jack).

An updated programme of measures for the UK Marine Strategy will be published this summer and will set out the how UK governments plan to achieve the new benchmark of clean, healthy and productive oceans and seas for marine life and people by 2024. Yet, in the latest draft seen by the RSPB, UK governments are showing signs that they are intending to undermine this aspiration by applying for exceptions to its legal duty, leaving the future of our seabirds even further in jeopardy.

The UK is home to globally important seabird colonies, however official government statistics show that seabird numbers have suffered an overall decline of almost 25% in less than four decades, equating to a loss of more than two million birds compared to 1986 levels. This is being felt most keenly in Scotland, which should be a haven for seabirds, where population numbers almost halved in this time.

Katie-Jo Luxton, the RSPB's Director for Conservation, said: "Seabirds are part of our national identity; the sight and sound of these amazing birds is part of the mental image we all have of the seaside and trips to the coast. And, as they nest on our cliffs and isles and can travel up to 100 miles out to sea to fish our seabirds are a good indicator of the general health of the waters around the UK. Which makes it all the more concerning that our seabird colonies are failing with numbers in decline, revealing that our seas are struggling and need urgent action.

"We know that targets and deadlines alone will not see seabird numbers increase, but they are important in setting out the ambition of what our governments need to achieve in order to halt seabird declines. So, we are urging governments to reconsider this decision to give themselves a loophole that could mean taking urgent action to save seabirds ceases to be a priority.

"If our politicians are to live up to their promises of restoring wildlife then we need to see this reflected in the decisions and actions they take now. If the intention of the UK Marine Strategy is to restore our seas before it is too late, questions must be asked about why our governments are seeking not to be held accountable for failing to achieve the seabirds indicator. With the UK aiming to play a leading role in the CBD COP to restore wildlife, why is it sending a message that it is giving up on the UK's seabirds?"