After two decades of declining numbers, there are early signs of hope for some seabirds around Scotland, including common guillemots and puffins. If the trend continues, this could lead to declines slowing and maybe even reversing in some areas.

Kittiwake and chick on a nestThis is according to the latest seabird indicator for Scotland published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), using information collected from the Seabird Monitoring Programme. Although the long-term declines are serious, the 2014-15 results are encouraging.

On the Isle of May, Scotland, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has been researching the seabirds since 1972. 2015 was above average for all study species with kittiwakes and shags having a particularly productive breeding season. This was the second consecutive year of high breeding success for kittiwakes (pictured) after a number of poor years.

Looking at the number of chicks produced can give an indication of how seabirds have fared in 2014 and 2015. Overall, the number of puffin chicks produced across Scotland in 2014-15 was slightly higher than the long-term average. Similar results were recorded for some other seabirds, such as herring gull and little tern, although populations are now lower than when results were first collected in 1986.

Mark Newell from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who manages long-term seabird research on the Isle of May, said, “The last few winters have seen a return to slightly cooler winter sea temperatures in the North Sea, which is thought to have been beneficial to the development of sandeels, the preferred prey of many of the seabirds. These are encouraging signs as shown by the improved breeding success in the last few years on the Isle of May NNR. However, it is not universally good news as demonstrated by recent winter wrecks of shags and auks.”

"These are encouraging signs as shown by the improved breeding success in the last few years on the Isle of May NNR. However, it is not universally good news as demonstrated by recent winter wrecks of shags and auks.” Mark Newell, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

The seabird indicator is prepared using data from the Seabird Monitoring Programme – a partnership project, led and co-ordinated by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) involving a range of conservation partners, including CEH. In addition CEH produces a separate report on breeding on the Isle of May. The 2015 summary was published last week.

Additional information

Scottish Natural Heritage issued a press release about this story

Seabird Monitoring Programme

Isle of May 2015 breeding summary

Staff page of Mark Newell

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