Concerns grow that new UK Marine Strategy will mean UK governments are no longer accountable for seabird recovery

Thursday 12 May 2022

Close-up of fulmar in flight

  • The RSPB is alarmed that a new strategy will give UK governments a loophole to abandon seabird recovery having failed to meet targets
  • There is an urgent need to reverse seabird declines in the UK as 24 of the 25 UK breeding seabird species are listed as Red or Amber status on the UK list of Birds of Conservation Concern
  • The health of seabird colonies is a key indicator of the health of the UK’s seas, meaning targets to restore seabird numbers would show how well the UK’s seas are faring

Our coastline and isles are becoming a flurry of activity as the next generation of seabirds begin to emerge from eggs and parents are busy flying out to sea to bring back food to give their young the best possible start to life. However, the RSPB is concerned that a recent consultation has revealed that UK governments are looking to write themselves a loophole having failed to meet current commitments to halt population declines at our globally important seabird colonies.

Seabirds are a key indicator of the health of our seas and coastal environment, and this is reflected in the UK Marine Strategy. The Strategy was first published in 2012, setting out a legal duty for the governments of the UK to meet 15 measures to achieve Good Environmental Status by 2020. Yet, the UK failed to meet 11 of those targets, with progress towards the goal of halting seabird decline worsening from the 2012 starting point.

Seabird population numbers have kept declining and 24 of the 25 UK breeding seabird species are listed as Red or Amber status on the UK list of Birds of Conservation Concern. This includes puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills that are among the amazing seabird species that live, feed and raise their young around the coastline and islands of the UK.

An updated programme of measures for the UK Marine Strategy will be published this summer and will set out the how the UK governments plan to achieve the new benchmark of clean, healthy and productive oceans and seas for marine life and people by 2024. Yet, in the latest draft seen by the RSPB, UK governments are showing signs that they are intending to undermine this aspiration by applying for exceptions to its legal duty, leaving the future of our seabirds even further in jeopardy.

The UK is home to globally important seabird colonies, however official Government statistics show that seabird numbers have suffered almost a 25 per cent decline, in less than four decades, a loss of over 2 million fewer seabirds compared to 1986. And this is being felt most keenly in Scotland, which should be a haven for seabirds, where population numbers almost halved in this time.

Katie-Jo Luxton, the RSPB’s director for conservation said: “Seabirds are part of our national identity; the sight and sound of these amazing birds is part of the mental image we all have of the seaside and trips to the coast. And, as they nest on our cliffs and isles and can travel up to 100 miles out to sea to fish our seabirds are a good indicator of the general health of the waters around the UK. Which makes it all the more concerning that our seabird colonies are failing with numbers in decline, revealing that our seas are struggling and need urgent action.

“We know that targets and deadlines alone will not see seabird numbers increase, but they are important in setting out the ambition of what our governments need to achieve in order to halt seabird declines. So, we are urging governments to reconsider this decision to give themselves a loophole that could mean taking urgent action to save seabirds ceases to be a priority.

“If our politicians are to live up to their promises of restoring wildlife then we need to see this reflected in the decisions and actions they take now. If the intention of the UK Marine Strategy is to restore our seas before it is too late, questions must be asked about why our governments are seeking not to be held accountable for failing to achieve the seabirds indicator. With the UK aiming to play a leading role in the CBD COP to restore wildlife, why is it sending a message that it is giving up on the UK’s seabirds?”

Visit our seabird recovery pages to find out more about the RSPB’s work in this area. 

Last Updated: Friday 13 May 2022

Tagged with: Country: England Country: Northern Ireland Country: Scotland Country: UK Country: Wales Topic: Birds Topic: Amber Topic: Red Topic: Conservation Topic: Marine and water