Helping shags birds to thrive
European shags are one of our less-loved seabirds – but they’re in trouble. Laura Bambini, Seabird Recovery Officer, reports on the work we're doing to help them.
How we're helping shags
Once a common nester around the cliffs and offshore islands of north and west Britain, shags have declined by 38% in the last 15 years in the UK, and are now on the UK Red List of conservation concern.
Shags suffer from high winter mortality, made worse by low breeding success, which has been linked to a lack of sandeels that they feed on. Shags are likely to be hit hard by climate change, as winter storms are expected to become more frequent and more intense.
European shags are one of the RSPB's high priority species, and protecting key marine sites is vital.
The Scottish Government recently proposed 10 new marine Special Protected Areas (SPAs), three of which will benefit wintering populations of European shags.
One, the Moray Firth SPA, would also benefit a breeding population of shags. RSPB Scotland has advocated the designation of these sites, and responded positively to the consultation on them in September.
To improve the prospects for breeding seabirds, including European shags, our Seabird Island Restoration Project works to secure safe breeding sites on land by removing invasive non-native predators from seabird islands. We carried out a rat eradication project in St Agnes and Gugh in the Scilly Isles, an important site for European shags, which resulted in the islands being declared rat-free in February.
During winter 2015–2016, we carried out a rat eradication operation at another important site for breeding shags, the Shiant Isles in the Outer Hebrides. We’re looking forward to confirming that these, and more islands in the future, are free of non-native invasive predators.
All around the coast of the UK, seabirds and other wonderful marine wildlife are in danger. But unlike on land, there are very few protected areas at sea.