They are among the most threatened of birds as dwindling food supplies and climate change leave their numbers falling every year.

But scientists have produced maps identifying, for the first time, the location of “marine hotspots” for some of our most threatened seabirds.

The RSPB used GPS-tracking data to discover where kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and shags forage at sea during the breeding season, which takes place between May and July.

The RSPB said the maps will be “hugely important” in the effort to halt the birds’ decline as they identify the most important areas at sea for them.

The maps also provide vital information to make informed decisions on how best to protect those areas.

Seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds globally and many species continue to decline at an alarming rate in Scotland.

Guillemots and razorbill are amberlisted birds of conservation concern due to their serious population declines, while kittiwakes and shags are red-listed.

Found in internationally important numbers in Scotland, they are all under threat from climate change, which is causing a reduction in the availability of their food, as well as human activity such as developments in sensitive seabird areas, overfishing of seabird prey and seabirds being caught in fishing gear.

The breeding season is an important time for seabird colonies as parents search for food to feed their young.

The research, published in the journal Biological Conservation, comes at a time when decisions are being made relating to fishing, offshore wind farms and how best to protect the seas.

Dr Ian Cleasby of the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, the lead author of the research, said: “The sight and sound of hundreds of thousands of seabirds flocking to our shores is an amazing natural spectacle and something that we must help protect for future generations to enjoy.

“The results from this research provide better evidence that allows us to identify important areas of sea that should be part of protected areas and help to improve how we plan for development at sea to reduce conflicts between the needs of our seabirds and human activities at sea.”

Adult birds from a variety of colonies were fitted with lightweight GPS tags that recorded their position every 100 seconds to an accuracy of about 20 metres.

Four hotspot mapping techniques were trialled, providing a range of potential areas that could be considered for formal protection through the creation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

The analysis shows that many hotspots are larger than the UK’s largest existing marine SPA, the Outer Thames Estuary SPA, which covers an area of 1515 square miles. Under some of the mapping techniques, newly identified hotspots exceed the area covered by all of the UK’s marine SPAs.

They also highlight the importance of large areas of Scottish waters. For kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, the importance of the Scottish coast – particularly the east coast – was apparent.

For shags, hotspots were smaller than observed in the other three species and were typically found in inshore coastal waters centred on the site of their breeding colonies.

The protection of important areas of land and sea for birds is required by law through the creation of Special Protection Areas.

Charles Nathan, RSPB Scotland’s head of planning and development, said: “This research can help to direct development to areas where the risks to nature are lowest and focus conservation efforts to where they can best boost the recovery and resilience of our seabirds.

“This is particularly important at a time when we need to significantly increase electricity generation from technologies such as offshore wind to decarbonise Scotland’s energy system and help Scotland become a net-zero society.

“The challenge is that more offshore wind could risk the long-term conservation of globally important populations of seabirds which call Scotland their home. “We therefore need robust and strategic spatial plans that are informed by high quality research such as this so that we can tackle the climate and nature emergencies together.”