Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Greater protection urged for threatened marine wildlife

In a direct appeal to Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, the RSPB is urging the new Prime Minister to ensure that the first Queen’s Speech of his premiership includes protection for the UK’s marine wildlife.

A recent analysis has shown that UK seas regularly support 18 species of fish, mammal, bird or reptile that are considered at risk of global extinction. This compares with only three such endangered species on land or freshwater: two species of bat and a non-breeding migrant warbler.

The UK’s coastline is home to 18 exclusively coastal species of seabird, including Puffin, Gannet, Kittiwake and Guillemot. In addition, Great Skua, Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Shag have their most important populations in the world in the UK. Within the European Union, nine species of exclusively coastal seabird also have their most important breeding populations around our shores: Fulmar, Leach’s Storm-petrel, Arctic Skua, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot and Black Guillemot.

Currently, the protection of sites and species on land is not mirrored in the marine environment, says the RSPB, leaving species and habitats vulnerable to many threats, including over-harvesting and habitat destruction. The society and other conservation agencies are calling for new legislation to protect the UK’s seas and their wildlife.

RSPB Conservation Director Dr Mark Avery said: “The UK government has a very poor track record on designating marine wildlife sites. Under European law, it has only protected three marine sites of importance to birds; this paltry figure puts us behind many other European countries.

“We trust that Gordon Brown will honour his party’s manifesto commitment to provide a marine bill before the next election. His commitment to marine protection will be an early test of his environmental credentials.”

The vulnerability of marine wildlife is highlighted by the fact that UK waters once would have supported regular populations of even more species. The Great Auk became extinct in the UK in 1840, four years before its global extinction. Dr Avery added: “History reminds us that without proper protection marine species are vulnerable to extinction. How many more species do we need to lose before other threatened marine wildlife receives protection?”

Photo: Razorbills by Steve Young