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Working for Scotland's seabirds

Scotland is home to around 60 per cent of Europe's breeding gannets

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.

More protection in Scotland’s seas

After intense pressure from RSPB Scotland and its supporters, the Scottish Government has taken the first steps towards protecting Scotland’s incredible marine environment.

14 draft Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been announced for seabirds, along with the designation of 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including six for black guillemots and three for sandeels. We at RSPB would like to thank everyone who has taken part in our campaign to make this happen.

The 14 draft SPAs announced are an important foundation from which to build a network of protected areas for Scotland’s iconic seabirds. RSPB Scotland will continue to work with parliament and government to help develop the protected areas we have and identify new ones.

Unfortunately, neither the 30 MPAs nor the 14 SPAs are enough to fully protect seabirds. Some species, such as kittiwake and Arctic tern, are in chronic decline in areas such as Shetland, yet none of their important foraging areas are protected. Other areas of sea we already know to be important, such as the Outer Forth Banks, also remain unprotected. RSPB Scotland will continue working to make sure that seabirds and the wider marine environment is properly protected and looked after.

Seabird declines

Common tern flying in stormy sky

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

Image: Graham Catley

Scotland is home to globally important populations of seabirds. 95 per cent of the EU’s great skuas, 67 percent of the EU’s northern gannets and 65 per cent of the EU’s black-legged kittiwakes all breed on Scotland’s coasts.

Climate change and poor management of Scotland’s marine environment has contributed to declines in seabird populations in Scotland, with around half of our seabirds disappearing since the mid 1980s.

According to the Scottish Government’s own figures, nine of the 11 seabird species for which a trend can be calculated have shown sustained declines since 1986. Arctic skuas have plummeted by 80 per cent, Arctic terns by 72 per cent and kittiwakes by 68 per cent.

Protecting the nesting and feeding areas of seabirds is a requirement of the EU Birds Directive passed in 1979. Scotland and the rest of the UK have lagged behind other countries in designating appropriate areas for protection.

Why are sandeels important?

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 (see our infographic - top right - for more details).

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.

You can make a difference

Climate march

We campaign on many issues including climate change

Image: David Levenson

Having MPAs designated and SPAs on the way shows the power people have to make change. If you want to be part of RSPB Scotland’s movement towards a greener, more environmentally conscious Scotland sign-up to campaign with us or become a member. 

More info

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How you can help

Becoming a member means you will be among over one million others who are committed to giving nature a home in the UK.

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The problem in numbers

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

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