Last summer our very own Clydach Wildlife explorer group visited Skomer island.
Armed with video cameras they filmed the puffins and made a short video about why our seabirds need better protection - not just on shore but at sea too. The RSPB continues to call on Welsh Government to deliver its duties and provide protection for seabirds at sea, and hopes to have some positive messages to tell you in 2013!
thanks to all who helped make this possible
Gannets and guillemots: Ian McCarthy
Hundreds of seabirds, mostly guillemots, have again been washed up along the south coast of England covered in a debilitating sticky substance. This is a virtual repeat of the incident back in February this year when over 500 birds were found from Devon to Dorset. See the February pages of this blog for more information.
This time however the tide of dead birds is further west in south east Cornwall and South Devon, in just a couple of days over 700 birds have been washed ashore. For a personal perspective on this seabird tragedy visit the blog of Alison Fogg in Cornwall In a walk on Monday 15 April she was horrified to discover over 157 dead birds on a short stretch of Cornish beach.
What is the scale of the incident?
So far we know hundreds birds have been affected. Over 400 dead birds have been collected from Cornish beaches, with more than 200 live birds affected. As of 16 April, 197 live birds had been taken to the RSPCA centre at West Hatch alone. However, we will probably never know the full extent of this incident as many of the birds are likely to be lost at sea. It is generally accepted that 3-10 times as many birds die at sea than are washed ashore in incidents like these. It appears that along with the increasing numbers of birds affected, the range of species affected, and locations where they have been found are also increasing.
Guillemots have been most affected, as 90% of the birds washed up have been this amber-listed bird of conservation concern. Other species involved have included puffins, razorbills, shags, cormorants, terns and gannets. It is thought many of these birds will be local breeding birds, indeed we know one of the dead gannets was a bird from the colony in Alderney, Channel Islands.
Guillemot: Bob Mitchell
What is causing this?
The deadly pollutant is the same as back in February, polyisobutene (PIB), which is used for a wide range of purposes, from fuel additives to chewing gum. As before, there is no indication as to the source of this pollution. Despite its lethal effect on seabirds, under international marine pollution regulations (The MARPOL Convention) it is perfectly legal to discharge certain amounts of PIB into our marine environment when vessels wash out their tanks.
Guillemot: Ian McCarthy
RSPB staff and volunteers are undertaking an emergency survey of beaches in the affected area to record any dead birds (and pass details of live birds to RSPCA).
The RSPB has written to the International Maritime Organisation asking for a review of this position and is also raising this issue with the government. We believe that the risks to the marine environment from PIB are underestimated, and that we simply do not know how much PIB is regularly released into the sea in legal discharges. As such, we believe that until we can prove PIB is safe, it should be reclassified to prohibit its discharge.
Longer term, the key to mitigating the impact of incidents like this is a healthy population in the first place, so the future of a species is not significantly impaired by one-off disasters. One of the best ways to build resilience into our marine wildlife is a well-connected network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
MPAs will not stop individuals caught in a disaster from dying, but they provide a healthy reservoir to allow the population to recover. It is therefore disappointing that the current proposals for English Marine Conservation Zones proposed by the government for implementation in 2013 are so inadequate, as criticised last week by the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee. Not only are there not enough sites proposed (only 31 of the 127 agreed and recommended by stakeholders), but they will also be protecting fewer habitats and species in many cases. Mobile species in particular are poorly accounted for in the 31 sites proposed, and not a single one of those sites currently includes seabirds as protected species.
What do I do if I find an affected bird?
If you find an affected live bird, we advise you not to touch it, as we do not know how hazardous the contaminant may be. Also, a stressed bird is difficult to catch, so you may unintentionally cause it further distress and it may escape back to sea untreated. If you find any affected live birds, please contact the RSPCA (call 0300 1234 999). If you find a dead bird, please report it to the RSPB on 01392 432691.
This is a very distressing event, and we applaud the RSPCA, South Devon Seabird Trust, Cornwall and Devon Wildlife Trusts, BTO and of course all the volunteers who are working to help resolve the situation.
New report from Parliamentary Committee
Today the Parliamentary Science & Technology Committee releases their report into the way that science and evidence are used in the marine environment, following their enquiry at the end of 2012. I’d encourage you to have a read of it, as it contains some strong messages to Government, in particular on the recent selection of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in England and the importance of data and monitoring.
From the RSPB’s perspective, the report’s conclusions and recommendations highlight many of the same key issues that we raised in our recent response to the consultation on MCZs, which closed last month.
Some of the main conclusions on MCZs from the Committee’s MPs include:
We would urge the Government to take this opportunity to reinvigorate their original vision (in place since 2002) of “clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas”, and take the actions needed to deliver this, by designating a full and ecologically coherent network of protected areas at sea as soon as possible. As well as MCZs, this network also includes a suite of marine sites of European importance for seabirds (called Special Protection Areas), which is a long way from complete. Only with such an approach will the risks to our important marine wildlife be reduced.
A further important area that the report highlights is the value of data and monitoring. As the Committee itself concludes, “collecting scientific evidence about our marine environment is fundamentally important to the Government’s marine policy agenda”.
The Committee’s recommendation has two strands. Firstly, the Committee recommends that the Government and the relevant agency, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) should develop proposals that would make sharing of more data at sea a condition of licensing commercial activities in UK waters. The information that industry collects is highly relevant to a range of other marine work areas, such as marine planning and the location of protected sites, and should guide the smart roll-out of marine renewable energy.
Secondly, the Committee is concerned that long-term monitoring programmes that tell us so much about the natural environment over time are not funded strategically. One particular example that we are very concerned about at the moment is the regular census of breeding seabirds that takes place every 15 years. This really important census tells us how well or how badly seabird populations around the UK are doing and makes an assessment of what the main impacts are. It’s the basis for so much of what we do but the last census was back in 2000 and so the next one is due soon. The Government needs to make ‘Seabird 2015’ a real priority and we are concerned that initial preparation is not taking place as quickly as it should.
We hope that the Government uses the recommendations of the Science & Technology Committee’s report as positive encouragement to improve marine science, fill the data gaps and create a mandate to deliver more effective marine conservation. The time is now.
Kittiwake: Kaleel Zibe (rspb-images.com)
Over the last week, we’ve received reports of hundreds of seabirds, mostly puffins, as well as smaller numbers of guillemots and razorbills, washing up on beaches along Scotland’s east coast and on down to Northumberland.
These seabird ‘wrecks’ are thought to be the worst in several decades and may be the result of the ongoing harsh weather we’ve been experiencing. The exact causes are still unknown.
Despite their small stature, puffins are hardy birds and it is particularly concerning to see them washed up showing signs of starvation and exhaustion.
After fledging from our seacliffs in late summer, these birds travel long distances and spend the winter months at sea, before returning to our shores for the breeding season in late spring.
There are concerns that the scale of this wreck may have an impact on the upcoming seabird breeding season as many species are already facing steep declines. Conservationists will be monitoring populations closely throughout the summer season.
We are working with the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) to monitor the situation and learn as much as possible about the cause of the wrecks. Recovery of the birds along our beaches for post-mortem examination is currently underway. You can help by reporting any sightings to us or the CEH.
Renowned seabird expert Mike Harris is on the scene and wrote an informative blog update yesterday. Keep an eye on this blog for further updates.
Wrecks have been reported at the following locations:
Beadnell Beach, Northumberland
Great news - We are pleased to announce that the RSPB Ramsey Island reserve has gone multi-media!
Armed with a digital camcorder - our Wardens Greg and Lisa are going to bring you snippets of island life and its amazing wildlife, plus some of the surround ing area like Grassholm.
We've already uploaded some videos, here's some examples;
Some fantastic footage of common Dolphins swimming along side the boat. These are reported to be the fastest dolhpins found in Welsh waters, reaching speeds of up to 27mph! Large congregations can be seen in Welsh waters from May to November off the Pembrokeshire coast.
A stunning view of the Gannets of Grassholm, the Western most point of Wales, and home to around an amazing 39,000 pairs of northern Gannet. making it the 3rd biggest colony in the Uk after St.Kilda and Bass Rock.
Theres more videos on the channel - so why not subscribe and keep up to date with whats going on. My favourite so far, was uploaded yesterday (20th March) and goes to show that when your on an Island your at the mercy of the elements!
For more information on the Ramsey island reserve: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/r/ramseyisland/about.aspx