Scottish seabirds threatened by drop in populations of sensitive species

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The RSPB Scotland has warned Scotland’s internationally important seabird colonies have experienced “significant” drops in populations following poor breeding seasons.

The most significant population declines observed were in the northern isles in populations of sensitive species such as Arctic terns and kittiwakes.

The RSPB reports a full colony count at Marwick Head reserve on Orkney revealed a “staggering” 53% decline in numbers since the last full census in 2000 and a 22% decline since the last colony count in 2006.

Guillemots and kittiwakes failed to produce a single chick at Noup Head on Orkney, while on the North Hill reserve breeding pairs of Arctic skuas were down by nearly half.  The single remaining pair of kittiwakes failed to raise any young at a colony which once had more than 150 pairs.

On the Western Isles and Inner Hebrides numbers were also low, and breeding attempts were not helped by gale-force winds in the last week of May which ruined a high proportion of nesting attempts for terns in particular.

Conservationists had some success on Shetland where 15 occupied burrows of Leach’s storm petrel were discovered on Ramna Stacks and Gurney – the RSPB’s only reserve for this enigmatic bird –  a “bleak” picture remains for species elsewhere on Shetland.  The RSPB called for bird food foraging areas to be included in proposed marine protected areas – marine protected areas are an important tool for protecting the areas that are vital for seabirds at sea.

On the east coast of Scotland, better general productivity than the previous year was recorded, but overall numbers of sensitive species such as guillemots and kittiwakes have fallen significantly over the last 10 years.  Troup Head on the Moray coast reported the biggest drop in guillemots, experiencing a massive 66% decline at the reserve since 2001. However, the RSPB reserve counts showed that razorbills and guillemots appeared to enjoy a relatively successful year further south in England and Wales.

The RSPB called on the UK and Scottish governments to take urgent action to protect seabirds with such worrying declines in their numbers.

Doug Gilbert, head of reserves ecology for RSPB Scotland, said: “The terrible season for critical colonies in the far north warns us that seabird populations in the UK remain in real danger. This is against the backdrop of long-term decline for many species. Carrying out another full census is vital.  By knowing how different species are faring, conservationists can then attempt to determine causes of decline and the means of protecting these species.”