© Heather Lowther, CEH Puffin


The Challenge:

The temperatures of waters around the UK are rising with dramatic consequences for the coastal ecosystem. At the same time, coastal waters are under pressure from human activities such as fisheries and offshore renewable developments.

In recent decades these multiple pressures have contributed to the decline of many of the UK’s internationally important populations of seabirds. Research is needed to inform sustainable economic development that integrates the conservation requirements of seabirds and other protected species.

© Heather Lowther, CEH Researchers


The Research:

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has been researching seabirds on the Isle of May NNR since 1973. We study six species with differing ecologies (the Black-legged kittiwake, Atlantic puffin, Common guillemot, Razorbill, European shag and Northern fulmar), recording survival rates, reproduction, diet and foraging distribution during the breeding season. CEH also studies distribution in winter through the support of more than150 volunteers, and by deploying data loggers for species that migrate far offshore.

With these data, CEH identifies areas that are important for the seabird community throughout the year. We also quantify the causes of population change, and have shown which species are negatively affected by climate warming, sandeel fisheries (the seabirds’ principal prey) and marine renewable developments.

The Outcomes:

CEH’s seabird research has highlighted key drivers of seabird populations in the North Sea and wider marine ecosystems, allowing CEH to advise the public, private and third sectors.

The selection of Marine Protected Areas was informed by CEH research, and the European Union’s decision to close the sandeel fishery on the east coast of the UK in 2000 was underpinned by CEH data on seabird breeding success and survival. Subsequent reviews have relied on our input in support of the continuation of the closure.

CEH data are central to the synthesis on climate change effects on seabirds provided by the UK Marine Climate Change Impact Partnership that advises policy-makers on the challenges of marine climate change. These data are also of direct importance to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, acting as an indicator of Good Environmental Status.

Results from CEH research are also a major resource for conservation statutory bodies and NGOs, while our work on the potential effects of proposed offshore renewable developments on seabirds has influenced recent consenting decisions.

CEH’s long-term research allows governments, NGOs and the private sector to make informed decisions regarding the sustainable future of seabird populations and UK coastal waters.

CEH Seabird Research on the Isle Of May
2 months of summer on the Isle of May
European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) nesting site


“The combination of world-class scientists, an enthusiasm for collaborative working and an ongoing commitment to both maintain long-term datasets and to exploit innovative new methods, makes the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology a global leader in seabird research.”
Dr David Gibbons
Head of RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

“The work provided by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology... on seabirds... has been used as the principal source of evidence relating to climate impacts on seabirds for a wide range of government
and devolved administration reports.”

Professor Ian Boyd
Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra


UK and devolved governments, European Union, industry and NGOs


More than four decades of seabird population monitoring


Evidence to inform offshore renewable developments, support sustainable fishing in the North Sea, and advise policy-makers

Science areas: