Scottish Seabirds have successful breeding season

Puffins managed to have a successful breeding season at some sites, despite the wet summer. Photo: Davide Scridel (www.rspb-images.com).
Puffins managed to have a successful breeding season at some sites, despite the wet summer. Photo: Davide Scridel (www.rspb-images.com).
RSPB Scotland reserves have recorded large numbers of seabird chicks fledging this year, despite the exceptionally wet summer.

The promising figures are a welcome reprieve from the chronic declines seen across Scotland in recent years, which have resulted in two thirds of some bird populations, such as Kittiwake, being lost.

RSPB Scotland’s reserve on Tiree, Argyll, saw Common Guillemot numbers grow from 2,068 in 2014 to 2,634 birds this year, and the number of Kittiwake nests at Troup Head, Aberdeenshire, increased from 395 to 414 during the same time, which managed to fledge as many as 460 chicks. At Fidra RSPB in the Firth of Forth, there were 1,026 active Puffin burrows, up from around only 800 in 2009, while Kittiwakes at Folwsheugh RSPB in the North-East fledged 545 chicks.

Early indications from the breeding season this year had suggested the cold winds and heavy rains lashing cliffs and filling burrows would cause trouble for the birds. However, these figures show how resilient seabirds can be when they are actually able to find food, though when it came to nesting, many Puffins were left digging burrows in the sodden mud.

Unfortunately though, the story has not been consistently good everywhere; the Northern Isles are still in trouble, with seabird populations in Shetland and Orkney continuing to struggle. 
Only 570 Kittiwake pairs were recorded this year at Marwick Head on Orkney, a decline of 90 per cent since 1999, when the site used to hold 5,573 pairs. Common Guillemot numbers at Marwick Head also dropped from 34,679 to 8,645 over the same period. Meanwhile, 668 Puffins were observed at Sumburgh Head, but only around a third of nests there fledged any chicks, suggesting some 400 nests failed.

The year also saw Kittiwakes being lost entirely from North Hill in Orkney, and of the 300 Arctic Terns present on Mousa only 20 pairs attempted to breed, and none managed to raise any chicks. The difference between the Northern Isles and other parts of Scotland appears to be in food availability and shows the clear need for properly protected areas at sea.

Phil Taylor, RSPB Scotland Marine Policy Officer, said: “Scotland has already designated more Marine Protected Areas than any other part of the British Isles, and RSPB Scotland has worked hard to make sure these include protection for Black Guillemots and sand-eels. But clearly, though our seabirds can cope with wet summers, they struggle without healthy seas to feed in. The Scottish government could help solve this, as they have already identified 14 potential Special Protection Areas, which are internationally important parts of our sea, but are dragging their feet when it comes to designating them.

“For most of Scotland, 2015 has been a welcome reprieve from years of chronic seabird decline. However, we’re not out of the woods yet. Despite this great news, we’ve still lost two thirds of our Kittiwakes, Arctic Skua and Arctic Terns since 2000. The best time to take action was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”

Four of Britain's bird species including Puffin were recently added to the list of birds considered to be facing the risk of global extinction. The latest annual revision of birds on the IUCN Red List was announced by BirdLife International on behalf of the IUCN at the end of October, and doubles the number of British bird species considered to be endagered to eight.
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