My colleagues in Northern Ireland this week made a call for the public to be aware of and report any beached seabirds - every bit of information is valuable to better understand the impacts on our breeding and non-breeding populations. Winter is traditionally the season when birds are washed up either by pollution incidents or simply through natural mortality, for example as the result of stormy weather.
Today, I'm pleased to hand over this blog to another colleague, Hayley Webb, who coordinates the annual Beached Bird Survey for the East of England. Hayley explains what this years survey involves and how you can take part as BBS volunteers, wherever you are.
If you want a good physical indicator of the impacts that pollution has on the marine environment, bird mortality is it! Although we have thankfully seen a decline in chronic oil pollution in the North Sea in recent decades, stranded oiled seabirds along the tide lines of the British Isles are a clear signal that we are by no means out of the danger zone when it comes to the marine environment. Oil and other hazardous substances have the effect of waterlogging a bird’s feathers, causing death by cold, drowning or poisoning when a bird swallows the oil when cleaning its plumage – it can even effect embryo or chick development. Sounds horrific, doesn’t it? It is, but there is a way you can help.
Over the last 24 years, there has been an international effort to monitor the effects of oil pollution around the world’s coastlines and each and every stretch of beach monitored counts. The last weekend in February 2015 marks the next Beached Bird Survey where hundreds and hundreds of volunteers will take to the beaches around the UK to join in with this massive survey. Identifying the decline we have seen in North Sea chronic oil pollution has been made possible through surveys like the Beached Bird survey that records vital geographical and temporal patterns in oil pollution. Poorly know distributions and short lifespan of many marine mammals means it is very difficult to record such patterns of pollution accurately. Seabirds, on the other hand, are well monitored in many cases and years of research have meant that we are able to identify changes in population success and then try to find causes for it. It is very likely that without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, the cost and manpower of a commercially run Beached Bird survey would not be feasible, which means each and every one of our volunteers for this survey count.
Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
You don’t need to be a birding expert to take part, just the ability to walk your local coastline and basic seabird identification skills. We will ask you to take in some fresh air by walking maximum of 3-4 miles and back along the most recent high tide of your allocated stretch of sandy or pebbled beach and accurately report evidence of pollution and the number and species type of any ‘beached’ seabirds. All of the survey data our volunteers collect is then collated to create a big picture of the current state of the coastlines of the British Isles and can help us assess the impact that local, small scale oil pollution can have on the wider marine environment.
If you would like to be part of the Beached Bird Survey 2015 and help to make a real difference monitoring the health of our seabirds and the marine environment, please visit the volunteering section of our website here to search for Beached Bird Survey vacancies or contact your local regional office here.
Beached Bird Survey Co-ordinator for the East of England
Here’s the latest edition of 'Seabirds South West', with news on Chesil Beach’s little tern colony, thoughts on the protection of wintering birds along the south Cornwall coast and the latest on the Scilly seabird project. Definitely worth sharing more widely than just the region, to showcase the great work going on.
You can download it by just clicking on the link below. Have a look!
Seabirds South West No 6 November 2014.pdf
You can also follow RSPB South West on Twitter for latest news and views (and while you're at it, follow me too!)
Little tern. Photo: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
156 Parliamentarians, two Parliamentary Committees and 350,000 members of the public are now calling on Government to get on and complete our network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Today I am in Westminster for the launch of a Charter which has been signed by 133 MPs and 23 Peers. It calls on Government for ‘the swift designation of a representative and well managed Ecologically Coherent Network of Marine Protected Areas in UK Seas by 2016’. It’s an incredible endorsement across all political parties for the protection of our seas. What we must see in the following months is this call translated into designation of new MPAs and effective management introduced to protect our marine life from damaging human activities.
There is a great deal packed into the Charter commitment, so let’s break it down and explain what it all means and what we are asking Government to do:
Firstly, our MPA network needs to be ‘ecologically coherent’. This means ensuring that all components of marine life are protected, and the sum of all MPAs is greater than its parts. A number of criteria sit beneath this term, which together help ensure that our MPA network is sensibly and systematically designed and includes the most productive and biodiverse parts of the sea.
The recent designation of MPAs in Scotland has filled some of the gaps in our network, and as long as the majority of the 37 possible Marine Conservation Zones for England are designated in 2015, we will have made some great steps forward for the UK.
But there are still important bits missing. A report commissioned by Link in 2014 looked at the network of MPAs around the UK, and identified where these gaps in our network are. For example, the exclusion of whales, dolphins and seabirds in England’s MPA network is a glaring omission. We know that there are parts of the sea that they regularly use to feed and breed and it is these sites that must be protected. The Wildlife Trusts have just produced a report which highlights parts of the sea that must be protected for our whales and dolphins. The RSPB has been pushing Government for years to ensure that places that seabirds use to feed are better protected, and we will continue to make sure that seabirds have the protection they need at sea.
Secondly, our MPA network needs to be ‘well managed’, because right now it isn’t. Well-managed means ensuring that those human activities which are damaging habitats and species in our MPAs are stopped. It also means that we we take a ‘precautionary approach’ to ensure that lack of complete certainty about human impacts is not a barrier to effective protection.
And thirdly, the 2016 deadline means it needs to be ‘swift’, partly because our marine life needs to urgent protection and partly because we have made commitments to put in place this network by 2016. And that’s only 13 months away.