FRESH calls are being made for ministers to take urgent action to arrest the long-term decline of Scotland's seabird population.

It follows warnings that some species are plummeting by up to 80 per cent.

A new report by RSPB Scotland proposes an initial seven key sites to be designated as Special Protection Areas (SPA) for seabirds as a first step toward safeguarding important feeding areas and reducing the potential impact of damaging developments at sea.

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RSPB says that according to the government's own figures, of the 11 seabird species for which a trend can be calculated, nine have shown sustained declines since 1996. Arctic skua have collapsed by 80%, Arctic tern by 72% and kittiwakes by 68%. The conservation charity is warning that the Scottish Government, as well as other UK governments, risks failing to meet its obligations under Scottish and European legislation if it does not take action. The proposed SPA sites include sandbanks located off the Firth of Forth, an area of the Pentland Firth and the sea north of St Kilda.

RSPB Scotland said it will put forward a second set of recommended SPA sites in the coming months that, along with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), are necessary for building an ecologically coherent network of protected areas for seabirds.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "Scotland has a fantastic opportunity to show the world that we value our wildlife and natural environment. Unfortunately this is not the case when it comes to our iconic seabirds, species for which Scotland in particular has a special responsibility to protect."

A Scottish Government spokesman said ministers were already acting. He said: "The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring protection for our seabirds including the completion of work to identify marine SPAs under the EU Birds Directive.

"We are confident that completion of marine SPA designations will deliver adequate site protection for seabirds."