June 11, 2009

Conservationists Express Concern Over Scottish Seabird Decline

A new report shows that Scotland's seabird numbers plunged by 19 percent between 2000 and 2008, according to BBC News.

The major cause was almost certainly a shortage of food due to a drop in the number of small fish, such as sandeels, according to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

SNH said rising sea temperatures were probably affecting the fish populations as well.

RSPB Scotland called the figures "deeply worrying," as declines have been greater in areas such as the Northern Isles and down the east coast.

These lower fish numbers resulted in lower numbers of adult birds surviving from one year to the next, and not enough chicks being produced and surviving to replace them, SNH said.

"While it's always disappointing to witness declines in important species, we are not entirely surprised at these findings," said Professor Colin Galbraith, SNH director of policy and advice.

He noted that after several decades of increasing seabird abundance, they are now witnessing a period of decline likely to be linked to food availability, weather, and predation.

"It is important that we are now able to monitor seabird numbers much more effectively than in the past, to inform policy and action. We need to keep a close eye on seabird trends and try to understand what is driving them," he said.

There are now 55 percent fewer black-legged kittiwake and 71 percent fewer Arctic skuas breeding in Scotland than in the mid 1980s. Over the same period, Arctic terns declined by 26 percent, SNH said.

Breeding kittiwake numbers have been falling for many years now and there was no reprieve in 2008, according to Deryk Shaw, warden of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory in Shetland.

Shaw said a whole island count for the Fair Isle revealed that the number of nests was only half of those counted as recently as 2005 with many birds just standing on bare ledges.

"If the declines continue at this alarming rate, then many of Scotland's famous seabird cities could be virtually deserted within a decade," said Douglas Gilbert of RSPB Scotland.

The hopes of a good breeding season have been crushed over the past decade, as eggs are deserted or young chicks starve in their nests because the adult birds cannot find enough fish, he said.


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