Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Mixed fortunes for Britain’s seabirds

Common Tern feeding youngReports from Scotland and Wales indicate that the seabird breeding season is having mixed success.

In Scotland, the RSPB’s coastal seabird reserves are having another poor breeding season with many colonies nearly deserted. Orkney, as well as parts of Shetland and north-west Scotland have had a disastrous year, while on the east coast, colonies at Fowlsheugh and Troup Head have fared better, with the Mull of Galloway in the south also doing quite well.

The species affected vary, with Common Terns seeming to have done consistently badly around Scotland, with Kittiwakes holding on in the south and east, while Guillemots have once again been hit hard.

Norman Ratcliffe, seabird ecologist with RSPB Scotland, said: “Some cliffs which should be packed with birds are just about bare, as adult birds abandon the nest once their breeding attempt has failed. This is all linked to food availability, which can be disrupted for a number of reasons. We're fairly certain that on the east coast, rising sea temperatures are leading to plankton regime shifts, which in turn affects fish like sandeels - a major food source for seabirds.”

In Wales a full seabird count has taken place on the RSPB’s Ramsey Island, revealing extremely healthy populations. Fulmars and Shags have all increased in numbers since the last full survey was undertaken in 2002, while populations of Guillemots and Razorbills remain stable. The most significant increase has occurred among the island's small colony of Manx Shearwaters, which have more than doubled in numbers.

Photo: Common Tern by Steve Young (