IN DANGER: Overall numbers of guillemots and other birds are falling.
Campaigners are now calling on UK and Scottish governments to take urgent action to protect seabirds after alarming declines in their numbers.
The biggest population declines were in the northern isles, with reserves in Orkney showing a major fall.
Seabird breeding performance on a number of RSPB Scotland’s coastal reserves indicate continuing problems for the country’s internationally important colonies.
The RSPB is calling on the UK’s governments to ensure the areas important for seabirds at sea, particularly where they forage for food, are included and adequately protected in the networks of Marine Protected Areas being discussed in Scotland, England and Wales.
A full colony count at Marwick Head reserve on the Orkney mainland showed a 53% decline in the total number of seabirds present since the last full census of the UK’s seabird populations in 2000 and a 22% decline since the last colony count in 2006.
Guillemots and kittiwakes failed to produce a single chick at Noup Head, while on RSPB’s North Hill reserve, breeding pairs of Arctic skuas were down by nearly half. The single remaining pair of kittiwakes on this reserve failed to raise any young at a colony that once had more than 150 pairs of breeding kittiwakes.
On the Western Isles and Inner Hebrides numbers were also low, and breeding attempts were not helped by gale-force winds in the last week of May which ruined a high proportion of nesting attempts for terns in particular.
Dr Sharon Thompson, senior marine policy officer at the RSPB’s headquarters, said: “Whether populations are in decline or in good health or improving, marine protected areas are an important tool for protecting the areas that are vital for seabirds at sea.
“We have the national and international laws needed to protect our marine wildlife, including seabirds, and the process of selecting these sites and forming a network of marine protected areas is under way. Unfortunately, the needs of some of our most precious sealife are not being considered properly.”
However, there have been some successes this year. Conservationists discovered 15 occupied burrows of Leach’s storm petrel on Ramna Stacks and Gurney, Shetland, RSPB’s only reserve for this enigmatic bird. The picture for the species was bleak elsewhere on Shetland.
The breeding season was mixed throughout the rest of the UK. The east coast of Scotland generally showed better productivity than the previous year, but overall numbers of guillemots and kittiwakes have fallen significantly over 10 years. Troup Head on the Moray coast reported the biggest drop in guillemots, experiencing a massive 66% decline at the reserve since 2001. RSPB reserve counts showed that razorbills and guillemots appeared to enjoy a relatively successful year further south in England and Wales.
The charity wants to see a full census of the country’s seabird colonies carried out.
Doug Gilbert, head of reserves ecology for RSPB Scotland, said: “The terrible season for critical colonies in the far north warns us that seabird populations in the UK remain in real danger. This is against the backdrop of long-term decline for many species. Carrying out another full census is vital.
“By knowing how different species are faring, conservationists can then attempt to determine causes of decline and the means of protecting these species.”