Scotland's seabirds continue to struggle


The coldest spring in more than 50 years has taken a toll on Scotland's seabirds, as early monitoring shows adult birds have arrived for the breeding season both late and in poor condition. Harsh weather conditions earlier this year have added to the considerable long-term challenges seabirds face, including lack of food due to the impact of climate change on the marine food chain, and poor management of human activities in the marine environment.

Colony counts on RSPB Scotland reserves across the country from Orkney and Shetland to the Firth of Clyde reveal a similar picture, with species such as Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills showing some of the steepest declines in number of birds present. Seabird counts on some sites around Orkney indicate an 87% reduction in the number of Kittiwakes compared with counts conducted on the same sites as part of the last seabird census in 2000. Razorbills are down 57% from a total of 2,228 in 2000 to just 966 in 2013, and Guillemots have declined by 46% during the same period. Meanwhile, seabird counts on Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde suggest a poor season for the same species, with Kittiwakes declining by 70% since 2000.

Breeding Kittiwakes (above), along with Razorbills and Guillemots, are in serious trouble in Scottish waters (Photo: Carl Wright)

Doug Gilbert, Head of Reserves Ecology for RSPB Scotland, said: "The numbers so far are really scary. Orkney again is being hit badly, as it was last year. Although this may just be a temporary effect because of the bad spring weather, the underlining trend for many years now has been downward. The late season will certainly not help in the race to turn the fortunes of seabirds around before it is too late. There are exceptions such as Puffin numbers on the Isle of May, but even here many birds are reported as being in poor condition and unlikely to breed successfully."

Allan Whyte, RSPB Scotland Marine Policy Officer, added: "There is every sign that this will be another difficult year for some of our most recognisable seabirds including Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. Difficult weather conditions compound the problem of long-term declines caused by food shortages, climate change and poor management of human activities in the marine environment. These results should send a clear message to the Scottish Government that they must designate Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for seabirds, and the sandeels they feed on, to give them a fighting chance. Giving seabirds the protection they deserve can help boost resilience in their declining population and allow them to recover after many poor breeding seasons."

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A full round-up of seabird breeding success is expected in the autumn. To find out more about the RSPB's work to protect Scotland's seabirds, visit the RSPB Scottish Sealife website.

Where are the birds? MPA consultation 'one chance to do more for seabirds'

New Scottish Government plans for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) will do nothing for the majority of Scotland's seabirds, RSPB Scotland has warned.

The nature charity has expressed serious concerns that the current proposals still fail to protect nationally important populations of seabird species. As it stands, the Black Guillemot remains the only seabird to be afforded protection. The warning comes just days after RSPB Scotland revealed recent colony counts had suggested steep declines in species such as Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills (see above). The coldest spring in 50 years is believed to have added to the considerable long-term challenges facing Scotland's seabirds, with numbers falling by up to 87% in certain areas.

Speaking following the launch of a public consultation on the new MPA network, Lloyd Austin, Head of Conservation Policy at RSPB Scotland said, "We welcome this opportunity to put our full support behind MPAs, they are vital for the protection of Scotland's amazing marine life. However, the Scottish Government has missed a great opportunity to do something positive for seabirds. Many species are suffering worrying declines in numbers so whilst puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes etc may be protected on land, without MPAs to protect their foraging areas, their colonies are simply a safe place to starve. People travel from all corners of the globe to see these species, and many Scots are rightly proud that our cliffs can give seabirds a home. With that in mind, RSPB Scotland and its supporters are calling on the Scottish Government to designate MPAs for seabirds at sea. This consultation is our one chance to tell Government it must do all it can to protect Scotland's iconic seabirds, before it is too late."

Written by: RSPB