Last chance to secure protection for UK’s rare seabirds

Katie Phoenix

Wednesday 12 October 2016

· Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around England's seas and coasts currently offer no protection for our globally important seabird populations.

· The Government's third and final phase of designating new MCZs will be consulted on in 2017, meaning this is the last chance to secure protection for seabirds.

· The RSPB is asking for one site to be designated as a new MCZ and five sites that are already MCZs to either be extended for important seabird colonies or include seabirds as the list of species they're designated for.

· Over 25% of coastal breeding birds have been identified as globally threatened or severely declining and are of the highest conservation priority meaning urgent action is needed if we're to turn the tide on seabird fortunes.

Europe's largest conservation charity is warning that better protection at sea is critical if we are going to halt the decline of the UK's rarest seabirds.

As the UK Government considers the designation of new MCZs for mobile wildlife such as dolphins, turtles and fish, the RSPB is urging them to consider designating six areas of sea as MCZs in order to provide a safe haven in the most important places for puffins, kittiwakes and other iconic seabirds to thrive.

Marine Conservation Zones are areas around England's seas and coasts that protect a range of nationally important, rare or threatened habitats and species. Existing MCZs offer protection for the creatures that live on the sea bed, but there is nothing in place to help the seabirds which rely on these waters. To species such as puffins and razorbill, areas like Lundy (off the coast of Devon) and the Cumbria coast are integral feeding grounds, therefore need protecting to ensure these beautiful birds are not lost to us.

Martin Harper, RSPB's Director of Conservation, said: "The UK's coastline is of immense value to wildlife and people. An estimated 270 million day trips are made to our seaside each year and it's always been an important and exciting place for people to explore and relax in. Almost half of all UK wildlife can be found here, with everything from mammals, minibeasts and plants making their home on the coast, and the seas surrounding our islands are vital for our seabirds.

"On land, English nesting seabirds are protected from human activities such as development and disturbance. However, when they leave their colonies and travel out to sea, most of the vital areas they use for feeding, preening and resting are not currently safeguarded in the same way.

"It was previously believed to be impossible to identify areas of sea that should be protected for seabirds but our innovative seabird tracking work has identified the areas they go back to again and again to forage for food for themselves and their chicks. It's vital the government act now to protect seabirds at sea to help halt the alarming decline that's already happening."

The UK's rich waters provide feeding grounds for millions of seabirds with hungry chicks, including some of the most important seabird colonies in the world. But according to the recent State of Nature 2016 report, over 25% of coastal breeding birds are red-listed as birds of highest conservation priority in the UK meaning they require urgent action.

Jeff Knott, RSPB's Head of Nature Policy, said: "Despite the UK Government committing to create a network of MCZs by 2016 that protect the full wealth of the UK's marine environment, there are currently only 50 MCZs designated in waters around England- less than half of the recommended 127 sites proposed in 2011- and disappointingly none of these MCZs provide any direct protection for our important seabird populations."

The existing 50 MCZs were designated in two phases following consultation processes. The UK Government also announced that a third and final phase of designating new MCZs will be consulted on in 2017, and designated in 2018, with the aim of completing the UK "Blue Belt".

Martin continued: "It's crucial that as well as protecting the sea creatures below the surface, we safeguard our wonderful wildlife above.

"We believe protected conservation areas are a vital tool to secure a future for our seabirds and help make colonies more resilient to the threats they face such as the impacts of climate change."



1. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

2. The RSPB are calling for six areas of sea to be designated as MCZs- The RSPB is asking for a site in Falmouth, Cornwall to be designated as a new MCZ to protect the already rare black-necked grebe which is particularly vulnerable to human disturbance. The other five sites, located in the North and South West of England, are already protected as MCZs for other habitats. These five sites overlap with nationally important areas for seabirds and the charity is asking for seabirds, such as Manx shearwater, puffin, common guillemot and razorbill, to be added to the list of species the sites are designated for, and in some cases for the sites to be extended, so that they are properly managed for the benefit of these species. 1. Carrick Roads is the only new site, one that must be created, to protect the already rare black-necked grebe which is so vulnerable to human disturbance. 2. The RSPB are asking for an extension to a site off the Cumbrian Coast to protect the many thousands of black guillemot, common guillemot, fulmar, common kittiwake, razorbill and puffin whilst they're at sea. 3. An extension to a site off the coast of Lundy is needed to protect the growing populations of Manx shearwater, puffin, common guillemot and razorbill. 4. Common guillemot and razorbill need to be added to Bideford to Foreland Point 5. Eider duck needs to be added to Coquet to St Mary's 6. Torbay needs to be extended 1km, and for common guillemot and black-necked grebes to be listed.

3. People can help by contacting their MP and asking them to write to Thérèse Coffey, Minister for Environment in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about why the UK Government urgently needs to include these sites in the public consultation. Visit our Saving Special Places blog for more information -

4. Seabird tracking work: As part of the RSPB's FAME and STAR programmes and related projects carried out by collaborators, seabirds have been tracked from colonies throughout the UK. To track birds, high resolution Global Positioning System (GPS) tags were attached to adult birds during the breeding season (May to July). Tags typically remained attached for two to five days, providing location records accurate to within 20 m every 100 seconds. The dataset comprised tracking data from 2010 - 2014 inclusive, thus included data from 230 European shags, 464 black-legged kittiwakes, 178 common guillemots and 281 razorbills, breeding at 13, 20, 12 and 14 sample colonies respectively. Raw tracking data indicate where tracked birds were observed, and hence can inform us of the areas of sea important for birds from the focal colony. However, to identify important areas for colonies where no tracking took place, the raw tracking data were used to build a predictive statistical model for each species, so that at-sea distributions can be predicted for any UK colony.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: England Topic: Safeguard our sealife