Scotland's seabird decline continues

Black Guillemot is the one Scottish seabird afforded strong protection as an actual species. Photo: Steve Young (www.birdsonfilm.com).
Black Guillemot is the one Scottish seabird afforded strong protection as an actual species. Photo: Steve Young (www.birdsonfilm.com).

The RSPB is warning that some of Scotland’s globally important seabird colonies could become extinct if the Scottish government does not act quickly.

Species like Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin are struggling to cope with increasing challenges including lack of food and the effects of climate change, leaving Scotland’s once bustling 'seabird cities' in danger of failing entirely. The RSPB's warning comes after end-of-season counts at its coastal reserves revealed that these species are continuing to experience severe long-term declines. Recent reports that numbers had stabilised now appear to have been premature.

Recent counts carried out at Noup Cliffs RSPB, Orkney, reveal a 41 per cent fall in numbers of Common Guillemot since the last census in 2000. Dunnet Head RSPB on the Caithness coast saw a decline of around 45 per cent, from 8,980 to just 4,880 birds, since 2000, while Common Guillemots on Ailsa Craig RSPB in the Firth of Clyde have suffered a decline of over 27 per cent.

The charity is calling on the Scottish government to urgently designate Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for the country’s seabird populations. To date, only Black Guillemot is listed in government proposals, leaving species like Common Guillemot, Kittiwake, Arctic Skua and Razorbill unprotected at sea. In contrast with its close cousin, Black Guillemot appears to be doing well, with colony counts in the northern isles in particular showing good productivity. Extensions of protected areas around the colonies feeding grounds in 2009 would seem to have been nowhere near enough.

Allan Whyte, Marine Policy Officer at RSPB Scotland, said: “Scotland is home to 24 species of breeding seabird and it is baffling that the Scottish government chooses to ignore all but one when designating MPAs. Puffin, Kittiwake, Common Guillemot and the rest are struggling to survive in these tough times. The Scottish government must throw these birds a lifeline and designate MPAs to protect this amazing group of species. It is time we take action to give all of our seabirds a fighting chance.”