Puffin peeking out from burrow

Safeguarding sealife

The UK's coasts and seas are home to a huge diversity of wildlife that is vital for human livelihoods and wellbeing.

Safeguarding wildlife on our seas

Every year, an estimated eight million seabirds from 26 species come to the shores of the British Isles to breed.

This includes globally important breeding populations of a number of species, such as 60 per cent of the world’s population of great skuas, 70-90 per cent of the world's Manx shearwaters and 68 per cent of the world's gannets.

At the top of the food chain, birds act as indicators of the health of the ecosystems they live in. Declines in seabird populations are therefore a warning that we urgently need to take action to protect and recover our coasts and seas.

Marine Protected Areas

With the support of our members, we've fought for years for better protection for our seas. We now have the necessary laws and some progress is being made to implement new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), but effective protection at sea is still woefully inadequate to counteract the combined threats of climate change, developments at sea and damaging fishing activities.

We will continue to push for full and effective implementation of our MPA network. 

Success for us will be to see healthy and thriving seabird colonies with numbers consistently rising. We will also be looking for strong indications that undersea habitats and species are growing in extent and health from well-monitored study sites.

Breeding-plumaged dunlin on estuary

Why seas and coasts matter

Every year, just under eight million seabirds from 26 species, such as puffins and terns, come to the shores of the British Isles to breed, often in spectacular colonies.

Millions more waders, gulls, divers and seaducks, winter in and around our coasts and estuaries.

The UK and Ireland support a large part of the world breeding populations of a number of seabirds, including 90 per cent of the world's Manx shearwaters and 68 per cent of the world's gannets, many on our reserves.

More than half of our reserves hold breeding seabirds. 

Sea cliffs at Dunnet Head RSPB reserve, Caithness, near Thurso, Scotland, July 2008

Seabird colonies in decline

These once-flourishing seabird colonies are in deep trouble and the cliffs are falling silent. Since the 1980s, Scotland alone has lost almost half its breeding seabirds, including 80 per cent of its arctic skuas, presumed perished.

All these birds face many threats to their survival at sea, notably from dwindling supplies of their staple fish prey due to climate-driven sea warming, from getting caught in fishing gear and from increasing offshore development.

At the same time, rats and other invasive species have rendered too many of our islands uninhabitable for seabirds.

We have both a national and an international duty – legally and morally – to conserve these birds by offering them safe places to breed on land and a plentiful food supply at sea.

Aerial shot over Nor Marsh RSPB Reserve

Places of beauty

The sea around our coast provides us with a unique environment that is a place of beauty and enjoyment for millions of people each year. If we keep it in good condition, it can benefit our health and well-being, now and for future generations.

The sea also supports many thousands of jobs, an increasing range of industries and offers a ready means of transport around the globe. But the sea and our coasts are also home to one of the most diverse and amazing marine environments in Europe. Over half of the UK’s biodiversity lives in the sea, from cold-water coral and sea horses to basking sharks.

We work on a range of issues to protect and conserve our seabirds and other marine life, as well as the wonderful marine environment on which they depend, from the impacts of human activities.

Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys, in flight Southern Ocean nr South Georgia

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