Greater Protection for Welsh Seabirds
Wales' populations of seabirds are of global importance and RSPB Cymru warmly welcomes the consultation launched today by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the UK's statutory advisor on nature conservation, JNCC, on the creation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) around our coasts to help safeguard their future. These much needed protected areas offer a vital tool to help manage threats from impacts such as climate change and unsustainable activities. The new sites announced today will improve the overall network of protected areas used by seabirds for activities such as foraging and over wintering, but more still needs to be done to secure our stunning seabird colonies for generations to come.
The proposed sites covering three key areas for Welsh Seabirds include:
· a site for Manx shearwaters and puffins in Pembrokeshire, which extends into English Waters. The area proposed covers much of the world's population of Manx shearwaters, of which over 50% breed on the islands of Lundy, Ramsey, Skomer and Skokholm. Manx shearwaters nest in burrows and are especially vulnerable to predation on land. To avoid this, they arrive at, and leave their nests under the cover of darkness, spending daylight hours at sea foraging and gathering in their thousands on the surface of the water (rafting) near their breeding sites. The proposed designations will provide protection during the breeding season when the birds are at peak numbers and before their annual migration to South America during the British winter.
· a site for terns around Anglesey, providing additional protection for essential feeding areas during the breeding season. Only the nesting area is currently protected. The new site will help ensure that species such as little tern and common tern have a safe place to feed as well as breed.
· a site which will provide protection for wintering red-throated divers in Cardigan Bay.
The UK is home to internationally important populations of seabirds, with 8 million seabirds of 26 species nesting here. Yet they are facing significant declines with around 600,000 seabirds lost between 2000 and 2008. Many colonies across the UK have faced breeding failures and collapses in recent years. With the exception of kittiwake, a small gull, which continues to decline, Welsh seabirds are bucking the trend and establishing a strong foothold in the UK and in the waters of the Celtic and Irish Seas. Protecting these areas now is essential to ensure that Welsh colonies are more resilient to pressures such as the effects of climate change.
Birds such as puffins and razorbills are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and an increasingly turbulent marine environment. The seabird wrecks of 2014, caused by severe winter storms, with over 40,000 dead seabirds undoubtedly have negative impacts on the colonies across the UK. Today's proposals will seek to provide greater protection during the breeding season, ensuring that the birds are strong, healthy and hopefully better able to survive the winter storms.
The new sites proposed by NRW and JNCC are a positive and important first step in extending protection for seabird species. However, the network of protected areas is far from complete. Despite threats such as pollution and climate change, many of our seabirds are only protected on land where they breed. The network of protected areas still does not adequately protect our internationally important seabird populations when they are at sea. Spectacular 'seabird cities' like the island of Grassholm in Pembrokeshire may be protected, but the important feeding grounds of the gannets that nest there are not. More sites are needed to ensure we adequately protect our seabird populations throughout all their lifecycle, not only when they come to land to breed.
We look forward to the rapid designation of the new sites identified, and the development of effective management measures to ensure their long term viability. However, we also urge NRW, JNCC and the Welsh Government to continue to push forward with this important work and fulfil its commitment to fully protect all species of our seabirds at sea.