August 14, 2008

Rain Blamed for Fall in Kittiwake Numbers

The recent wet summers have been blamed for a decline in seabirds nesting and breeding in Westcountry waters.

For the last two years, kittiwakes at colonies including the Isles of Scilly and Hallsands, in South Devon, have not produced any young.

There have been reports of adult birds failing to complete their nests or lay eggs.

Dr Russell Wynn, of the National Oceanography Centre, who has been working with other marine scientists and the RSPB, said seabirds had been deterred from the region because of the wet weather's impact on their feeding habits.

Dr Wynn said: "It seems that the weather conditions last summer disrupted plankton movements, having a knock-on effect on small fish and the birds that feed on them."

Certain species have failed to breed at sites in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The warm and settled conditions in spring benefit surface- feeding seabirds, like kittiwakes, by bringing lots of food to the top of the water where the birds can reach it.

However, last year's hot spring provided a false confidence as the weather turned and the rain started to fall.

It meant the plankton and fish dispersed in a number of directions and the birds were deprived of their food source.

Helen Booker, of the RSPB, said: "Kittiwakes feed by picking fish from near the water surface. Other seabirds, such as guillemots, feed by diving to much greater depths so the weather induced changes to fish and plankton habits haven't affected them as much."

The fear is that with this summer's poor weather, the kittiwakes will again fail to breed once more.

Ms Booker said: "Seabirds face many threats, so this turn of events is an additional worry for species already in trouble. We need to consider why these weather patterns are happening and unfortunately climate change could be to blame, making it even harder to help not just the South West's kittiwakes but all wildlife."

The kittiwake is referred to as being "amber listed" as a bird of conservation concern.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.