June 19, 2008

Numbers of Scots Seabirds in Nosedive

By Emily Pykett

SCOTLAND'S seabirds could be in the grip of another dire year, according to the latest counts of nesting birds across the UK.

A report from the government advisory panel, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), highlights that in 2006 the red- throated diver, Arctic skua, black-legged kittiwake, Arctic tern, black guillemot and Atlantic puffin have all encountered problems with breeding since the last annual counts took place in 2005.

A smaller study of fulmars in Durness by a conservation charity has this year found that numbers have drastically decreased over the past decade.

The John Muir Trust yesterday reported that only 261 nesting pairs were counted on the cliffs on a three-mile stretch along its Sandwood Bay estate, near Cape Wrath.

Fulmars are a key indicator species for the health of the North Sea, and the area once supported more than 700 pairs, representing a decline of about 60 per cent since 1997.

Cathel Morrison, John Muir Trust conservation manager, said: "It looks as though the fulmar, one of our most common and resilient seabirds, is in as much trouble as other species such as puffins, kittiwakes, guillemots and Arctic terns."

It is thought that fulmars, a gull-like bird that is related to the albatross family, could be dying out due to famine.

They normally feed on discards from fishing boats which are on the decrease as the Scottish white fishing industry declines.

Mr Morrison added: "These survey results are alarming. If this rate of decline does not level off soon, we could be looking at the collapse of our seabird breeding colony at Sandwood within the next few years."

The results have been borne out in the JNCC's 18th annual report comparing figures for seabird species population to 2005 levels.

It shows a decrease in fulmars in western regions of Britain, combined with poor breeding success in the North of Scotland. There has been a downward trend across Britain.

All nests of red-throated divers on Eigg failed, due to predation by otters. Food shortages meant that the Arctic skua also failed to breed in some colonies and had low recorded numbers in west Scotland.

An RSPB spokesman said: "Fulmars and other species seem to be having a tough time of it.

In some areas we think there could be a link to the warming of the sea off the east coast of Scotland. This means the plankton at the bottom of the food chain is dying off, leaving whole ecosystems out of sync.

"If the figures we have seen were to continue we would have to expect a serious knock-on effect in terms of population."

More Info: www.jmt.org www.jncc.gov.uk

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