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British Seabird  Decline

The UK is recognized as an important hub for the world’s seabird populations. For example, British shores are home to 90% of the world’s great skua population. Other species that can be found along the coast of the UK include the kittiwake, the northern gannet and the charismatic puffin to name a few but their numbers are in decline.

A cliff alive with the noise and movement of thousands of seabirds is a familiar sight here in the UK and these impressive colonies draw crowds of keen birdwatchers. Colonies of terns also nest on rocky beaches and puffins inhabit burrows located above the hustle and bustle of the cliffs below. In total it is thought that the UK is home to 8 million breeding seabirds a year.

Flickr | Shell GameWorrying Declines

Despite the apparent abundance of these seabirds, evidence suggests that many of these populations are now in decline. While some parts of the UK have seen a rise in the number of nesting seabirds, the overall picture is not so positive. It has been reported that Fair Isle puffin numbers have halved over the last 30 years and many other northern colonies are seeing reductions on a similar scale, or even worse.

The reason behind these drastic declines is thought to be partly due to climate change. The waters around the UK have seen an increase in temperature in recent years, which has had a negative effect on their productivity. Plankton levels have decreased, which in turn has led to a decrease in the numbers of small fish such as sand eels. Sand eels are a key component of the diets of many of the UK’s seabird species; most people are familiar with the image of a puffin with a beak full of tiny silver fish. Without quality sand eel populations, large seabird colonies cannot be supported.

Flickr | AndrewIt is thought that the observed declines in sand eel numbers may also be influenced by overfishing, as they are caught in huge numbers for use in fertilizer and animal feed. This combined with the fact that climate change is predicted to worsen in the future may paint a bleak picture for seabird populations. However, efforts are constantly being made to identify and solve the problems that put them at risk.

A Brighter Future?

Many organisations are currently monitoring seabird numbers and behaviour and keeping track of any changes to populations. Marine conservation zones have been established in the seas around the UK in an effort to conserve their biodiversity. Organisations such as the RSPB are setting up projects with the aim of helping struggling seabird populations begin to recover.
A number of seabird success stories have been observed in Britain in the past. Numbers of Manx shearwaters in the Scilly Isles increased dramatically after a scheme was put in place to control rats on the islands, which were preying on the eggs of these birds. A similar scheme on the island of Lundy also resulted in large increases in seabird populations there. Recovery stories like these may provide hope for the future of British seabird colonies.

By Gabrielle Brooks - Online Journalism Intern

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