Lucy Quinn and Nick Richardson give us an update on seabird monitoring on Rathlin Island! Kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills and much more...
Seabird monitoring on Rathlin Island
Hello from Team Rathlin! (*previously known as Team Great Saltee…) We are continuing from Team Colonsay’s previous blog to give a little insight as to how things have progressed.
I suppose a blog about working with birds for the RSPB should really include a fair few birds. Happily, when carrying out research on seabird colonies there can often be more than a fair few of them; the cliffs at the west lighthouse here on Rathlin Island are starting to fill up nicely, after an apparently slow start this year, with tens of thousands of very vocal auks, nest-building kittiwakes and sitting fulmars.
Since arriving on Rathlin Island on May 16th, Lucy and I have been doing our best to get to know this beautiful island. We’ve walked most of the accessible cliff tops, “uphill and down t’ Dale”, when the weather has allowed, scanning every cave, stack and crag for signs of breeding activity and looking for birds that we might be able to work with and access safely. These descents have been a tad tough on the knees-many of the basalt and limestone cliffs are over 200 feet high-but the views of the island and its unique flora and fauna have been more than worth it. In addition to a varied array of birdlife, Rathlin is home to the Golden Irish Hare, which we often see in the fields jogging around in circles with their pals, amongst the fine floral colours of Early Purple Orchids and Pyramidal Bugles. We are indebted to Liam McFaul, RSPB Rathlin site manager, for his fantastic knowledge and advice about the island and are grateful to all the landowners who are letting us tramp across their land to get to the cliff-faces. It has also been great to meet the other RSPB Date with Nature staff based over here too.
View of Rathlin’s North Coast
So far, we have seen a few razorbills and guillemots on eggs, some predation of eggs by resident ravens and large gull species, and fulmars with an uncomfortable demeanour as if they’re sitting on something eggy (very scientific observation I know!), but in general everything on the cliffs seems to be very delicately balanced at the moment and later in starting than previous years. During a bout of strong north-westerly winds and rain on Thursday many of the auks abandoned their nests, so fingers-crossed they will be back on quickly and starting to lay soon all being well. As we wait for the birds to lay, this coming week we have the opportunity to get to know the Rathlin community more by attending the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival with its art exhibitions, music, talks, and a Viking long-boat arrival amongst other things to look forward to. Of course, we are eager to start putting loggers on the birds and do what we’re here to do, but it will only happen when the time is right, so in the meantime we will just sit tight, prepare all our kit and wait for nature to take its course…
The price you pay for science: being poo-ed on frequently
*Before arriving here on Rathlin, we previously spent a few weeks in the field working with European shags on Great Saltee, off the South-east coast of Ireland. In short, this trip provided us with a classic example of the ups and downs of a seabird conservation science expedition. In no particular order, the following significant events occurred: Gale force winds (x lots), un-seasonally harsh ground frost, rats, snapped tent pole, snapped catching pole, cancelled boat trips, chocolate consumption way above healthy lifestyle guidance limits, warmth of Irish humour, unique working conditions at a stunning location, rewarding encounters with the islands shags and their young, and importantly 5 logger recoveries, all data intact!
Leucistic shag sighted on Great Saltee.
We left Great Saltee feeling very grateful to the shags that had been good enough to allow us to catch them and retrieve the valuable data from their backs, and aware of how important each and every logger that we manage to get back could prove to be over the course of the summer. We are certainly privileged to be doing what we are doing, and we are sure the other RSPB seabird tracking teams feel the same!
Our fieldwork helper for the season, Jack, who guards the house while we are away and enjoys the view from the garden on Rathlin!
By Tom Hooper, Head of Marine Policy
The M5 in August should be proof enough that people like to spend their holidays by the seaside. Are we just following the same ruts that we have endured since childhood, or is their a deeper need within us to search for spiritual fulfilment on the coast?
Our health is important to us, and it is important to Government because they have to manage the costs of our ill-health. If the sea is helping people to stay physically and mentally healthy, then surely this is something that is we need to make sure is recognised and properly valued when it comes to decisions over how we use the sea.
It seems mercenary to even think about trying to quantify and qualify why we like spending time by the sea; but as a conservation organisation we are always looking to bolster our case for why stronger protection of the marine environment is essential. We are increasingly searching for better ways to help the natural world punch its weight in terms of quantifying what it does for humans for free. Talking about the intrinsic value (just because it’s there) or the bequest value (our environmental legacy to future generations) is clearly not yet convincing enough for action.
What we are not yet certain of is exactly why people are heading to the coast and the extent to which we rely on the sea for our wellbeing - is it the sound of the waves, the endless expanse of water or the excitement of seeing a dolphin break the surface, or a combination of many different things?
The answers to these questions are a focus of research as part of the Blue Gym Project at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (www.bluegym.org.uk). Equally fascinating are the collection of short video clips being gathered by ‘Man on a beach’ (www.manonabeach.com). Asking the question ‘what does the beach mean to you?’ to people on beaches all around the UK, more than a third of his interviewees have highlighted nature and spiritual wellbeing elements as their primary motivation for being on a beach.
We sometimes need to see the cold, hard evidence to prove what it is we know already-that the sea is not just a watery backdrop, it is vital for our health and wellbeing.
St Ives beach: FreeFoto.com
Whats Rigsby all about then?
Rigsby at Aberavon beach
Some of you may have noticed this little seabird on our facebook page over the last few weeks.
Having recently being named Rigsby thanks to you, its time to explain what his purpose is.
To put it simply. our seabirds lack the protection they need, not just here in Wales, but across the whole of the UK.
Wales has not seen the massive decline in seabirds like other places in the UK, but this means that our seabirds are now more important than ever. Yet we are still faced with limited protection for our seabirds, and their home - the seas that surround us.
Back in 2010, the Marine Bill was passed by UK government, and we hoped this would begin to make a positive change for our seas. Its now 2013, but what’s changed?
To be honest very little. We have had a consultation on making Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in Wales – areas which if used effectively could help provide protection for seabirds, and for other marine species from dolphins to sea fans [see pictures]. We were disappointed with the Welsh Government’s MCZ approach when it announced only 3 or 4 small highly protected areas that would ban all activity within them, including sustainable activities. We responded to the consultation, calling for highly protected areas to be used in the right place, for the right reason and to ensure that truly sustainable activities were not penalised unfairly. Over 7000 others responded to the consultation, the highest number ever, and Welsh Government listened.
Along with other marine users such as the fishing industry and the Royal Yachting Association, we have contributed our thoughts to developing a new approach to MCZs in Wales. The final proposals will be announced by Welsh Government staff this month.
Rigsby at Kidwelly
But its not just about MCZs – we need better management of the seas as a whole. This doesn’t mean banning activities left, right and centre. But it does mean we need to re-evaluate the way we use our seas. Government and decision makers have some nifty tools to manage the seas in a sustainable way – we just need to remind them that its worth doing.
Which brings us back to Rigsby - he will be travelling across Wales over the coming year, highlighting issues and interesting facts about our marine environment. He’ll also be asking you to help out. It might be something as simple as picking up some rubbish next time you’re at the beach, or it might be writing to your local AM to ask for further protection of seabirds and other sealife.
So follow us on facebook (and tell your friends about Rigsby too) – lets make sure that we give seabirds a home and that they get the protection they deserve.
Find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rspbcymru or Rspb Cymru
By Sharon Thompson, Senior Marine Policy Officer, RSPB
We have now submitted over a third of a million (over 350,000) pledges to No.10 Downing Street, urging the Prime Minister to designate an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in England’s waters without further delay.
As you can see, we – that’s the RSPB, the Marine Conservation Society, The Wildlife Trusts, WWF and Wildlife & Countryside Link – started our journey to Downing Street on a windy Westminster Bridge in front of Big Ben and in front of Parliament.
Walking up Downing Street is quite intimidating – it’s a street that is both completely familiar but suddenly seen from a new and much more personal angle. However, it was very exciting to actually get to stand on that step and have that door opened to our knock and to hand over our pledges.
Our journey today was quite short and ended in success. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for marine protection in England’s seas. It has been a long a tortuous journey to get to today – over 1 million stakeholders (environmentalists, fishermen, industry and recreation representatives) were involved for over 2 years in regional projects around England. At the end of that process, the stakeholders recommended 127 Marine Conservation Zones, but to date, the Coalition Government are only proposing to designate a maximum of 31 sites, and with no timetable for the completion of the ecologically coherent network.
Today’s hand-in of pledges highlights the enormous public support for effective marine protection and we have asked the PM to commit his Government to completing the network and providing us with a timetable for that work.
You can see more picture son Twitter at http://mczpetition.tumblr.com/.
Photo credits: Chris Wood
By Sharon Thompson, Senior Marine Policy Officer
Today, the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, the Marine Conservation Society and WWF are delivering staggering 350,000+ pledges to the Prime Minister.
These pledges are signed by you ... and you ... and you! This is the “Big Society” well and truly saying – we want urgent designation of marine protected areas to better protect the marine wildlife around England, including the important areas of the sea used by seabirds.
During my time working for the RSPB, I’ve seen a number of submissions of pledges, but I’ve never been the one chosen to stand on the steps of No.10 before! This is an exciting day for me and you can follow @number10today on Twitter as the day progresses. I’ll post an update on how it all went after we’ve handed the pledges through the Downing Street door.
We hope that the Prime Minister sees this massive expression of support for marine protected areas as the backing he and his Ministers need to get on with the job quickly.