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Scotland's seabirds continue to struggle

Last modified: 23 July 2013

Kittiwake in flight

Kittiwakes have suffered serious declines in recent years

Image: Steve Round

The coldest spring in more than 50 years has taken a toll on Scotland's seabirds as early monitoring shows adult birds have arrived late for the breeding season and in poor condition.

Harsh weather conditions earlier this year have added to the considerable long-term challenges seabirds face including lack of food due to the impact of climate change on the marine food chain, and poor management of human activities in the marine environment.

Colony counts on RSPB Scotland reserves across the country from the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland to the Firth of Clyde, reveal a similar picture with species like kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills showing some of the steepest declines in number of birds present.

Seabird counts on some sites around Orkney indicate an 87 per cent reduction in the number of kittiwakes compared with counts conducted on the same sites as part of the last seabird census in 2000.  Razorbills are down 57 per cent from a total of 2,228 in 2000 to just 966 in 2013 and guillemots have declined by 46 per cent during the same period.

Meanwhile, seabird counts on Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde suggest a poor season for species like guillemot, razorbill and kittiwakes, with the latter declining by 70 per cent since 2000.

Doug Gilbert, Head of Reserves Ecology for RSPB Scotland, said: 'The numbers so far are really scary. Orkney again is being hit badly, as it was last year. Although this may just be a temporary effect because of the bad spring weather, the underlining trend for many years now has been downward. The late season will certainly not help in the race to turn the fortunes of seabirds around before it is too late. There are exceptions such as puffin numbers on the Isle of May but even here, many birds are reported as being in poor condition and unlikely to breed successfully.'

Allan Whyte, RSPB Scotland Marine Policy Officer, said: 'There is every sign that this will be another difficult year for some of our most recognisable seabirds including guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes. Difficult weather conditions compound the problem of long-term declines caused by food shortages, climate change and poor management of human activities in the marine environment. These results should send a clear message to the Scottish Government that they must designate Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for seabirds, and the sandeels they feed on, to give them a fighting chance.  Giving seabirds the protection they deserve can help boost resilience in their declining population and allow them to recover after many poor breeding seasons.'

A full round up of seabird breeding success is expected in the autumn.

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