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Scotland's seabirds need help

Cliffs at RSPB Troup Head nature reserve viewed from the sea

Image: Andy Hay

Scotland is home to an amazing variety of seabirds. We have 24 breeding species which swoop and dive into the water and make our coasts their home. 

The seabird cities that surround our coastline are some of the most spectacularly dramatic places in the world to watch wildlife. In fact, Sir David Attenborough once described a Scottish seabird colony as 'one of the 12 wildlife wonders of the world.'

Our seabirds depend on the seas to provide them with food. But sandeels - one of the prey species they rely on most - are being affected by climate change, which means seabirds are going hungry, and breeding colonies are shrinking. 

We're fighting to make sure the Scottish Government gives our marine environment the protection it deserves. Watch this space to find out how you can get involved.

Marine Protected Areas

In 2010, when the Scottish Government announced that it was going to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), we were hopeful that this would address decades of seabird decline and a lack of protection. 

Our optimism was short-lived, as it emerged that the government only wanted to protect one type of bird, the black guillemot, with MPAs and ignore the other 23 species - a decision we have fought every step of the way.

An announcement on which MPAs will be designated is expected this summer. There have been six sites proposed for black guillemots and three for sandeels - tiny silver fish which are more important than they look, as they are the main food source for many other marine animals.

The government must designate these sites if the MPA network is to be scientifically sound. Another site which is absolutely vital is the Firth of Forth Banks Complex MPA. This area is known to be an important habitat for sandeels and a feeding area for many seabirds. Again, the government must designate this site and make sure it protects sandeels.

We will continue to fight to have these sites designated but we can't do it without your help. Keep checking our blogs for updates and more information about how you can get involved.

Seabird declines

Kittiwake pair displaying at nest

Seabirds like kittiwakes, which feed at the sea's surface, have been badly hit

Image: Andy Hay

Scotland is internationally renowned for its seabird population and is home to around 5 million seabirds, including globally important populations of some species like the great skua, gannet, Manx shearwater and shag. 

The most up-to-date information shows that Scotland has lost around half of its seabirds since the mid-1980s, with surface feeders such as kittiwakes and terns faring particularly badly. 

Many of these changes are driven by changes in food availability, which is in turn driven by climate change. 

The situation is particularly bad in places like Orkney, where a thriving wildlife tourism business exists. Kittiwakes have declined by as much as 86 per cent in the last decade. Arctic terns have seen drastic declines as well, and the overall picture isn't great.

MPAs will give seabirds resilience against the effects of climate change. Protecting seabird feeding hotspots means that seabirds have a fighting chance of survival.

Why are sandeels important?

Puffin carrying sandeels

A beakful of sandeels destined for a hungry puffin chick

Image: Nigel Blake

The small, silvery sandeel is something of a super hero in the sea. Sandeels have an important place in the marine food web and are utterly vital for seabirds, dolphins, whales and porpoises. But their populations are declining, with climate change understood to be the main reason.

Based on the best available evidence, we believe that sandeels are declining in abundance, size and quality in the North Sea. Many of our sandeel-dependent seabird populations are declining at the same time. 

For example, the Scottish population of kittiwakes (whose diet can comprise of more than 90 per cent sandeels in the breeding season) has declined by more than two thirds in Scotland since the 1980s.

Climate change has meant that the food sandeels eat has moved and what is available is of a lesser quality. This has had an impact on sandeel and seabird populations.

By protecting their habitat, MPAs offer sandeels protection from potentially damaging developments at sea and helps them cope with the mounting pressure placed upon them by climate change.

How you can help

It is important we protected seabirds and the food they eat. We have lost half of our seabirds in 25 years. Our populations are on a knife edge and we need to act now. Keep checking our blogs for updates and more information on how you can get involved.

The problem in numbers

Find out why Scotland's seabirds so desperately need your help by taking a look at our infographics