The black-legged kittiwake (a small species of gull), has been added to the list of birds considered to be facing a high risk of global extinction.
The latest annual revision of birds on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which has been announced by BirdLife International on behalf of the IUCN, brings the total number of UK bird species considered to be facing the risk of extinction to nine.
Globally, the species is thought to have declined by around 40% since the 1970s, justifying its uplisting from Least Concern to Vulnerable. Climate change and fishing that sets aside too little for the birds are pushing the kittiwake closer to extinction by affecting the availability and quality of sandeels, a crucial food source, during the breeding season.
Over 70 per cent of the British breeding kittiwake population is found in Scotland. Alarming trends have been recorded in their numbers here, particularly in Orkney and Shetland where breeding birds have declined by 87% since 2000, and on St Kilda in the Western Isles where as much as 96% of the breeding population has been lost.
Laura Bambini, RSPB Scotland’s seabird recovery officer said, “Some efforts are underway to protect important seabird foraging areas in international waters, but there is still much more to be done around Scotland and the rest of the UK to protect our internationally important and increasingly threatened seabird populations.”
In the North Sea sandeels provide a vital food source for many species of seabird and are crucial to the breeding success of kittiwakes. However, sandeels are threatened by rising sea temperatures and are the target of an industrial fishery. As a result kittiwake food supplies could be affected by both local and large-scale processes.
Alex Kinninmonth, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Marine Policy, said: “Frequent and widespread breeding failure is now being observed in several of Scotland’s breeding seabird species, particularly those reliant on sandeels. Kittiwakes are among the worst hit and are clearly struggling to cope with the effects of a changing food supply.”
“If they are to have any hope, it’s critically important that we act on climate change, and make sure added pressure from fisheries, pollution and marine development don’t make an already bad situation far worse.”
Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018