Scotland's 'seabird cities' continue to struggle

Kittiwakes [Pic: RSPB]
Image caption Kittiwakes and Arctic terns have had "significant" drops in populations

Scotland's internationally important seabird colonies are continuing to have poor breeding seasons, RSPB Scotland has warned.

The biggest population declines were in the northern isles.

Reserves in Orkney showed "significant" drops in populations of sensitive species such as Arctic terns and kittiwakes.

The RSPB called for areas where birds forage for food to be included in proposed marine protected areas.

The organisation said a full colony count at Marwick Head reserve on Orkney showed a "staggering" 53% decline in numbers since the last full census of the UK's seabird populations in 2000, and a 22% decline since the last colony count in 2006.

Numbers low

Guillemots and kittiwakes failed to produce a single chick at Noup Head on Orkney, while on the North Hill reserve breeding pairs of Arctic skuas were down by nearly half.

The single remaining pair of kittiwakes failed to raise any young at a colony which once had more than 150 pairs.

In the Western Isles and Inner Hebrides numbers were low, with nesting also hampered by gale force winds in May, which particularly affected terns.

On Shetland there was some success with 15 occupied burrows of Leach's storm petrel, the only RSPB site where the birds are found, but the picture was "bleak" elsewhere on the islands.

The east coast generally showed an improvement from the previous year, but overall numbers of guillemots and kittiwakes fell significantly over a 10-year period.

Image caption Arctic skua numbers on one reserve dropped by nearly half

Troup Head on the Moray coast reported the biggest drop in guillemot numbers, experiencing a massive 66% decline at the reserve since 2001.

The RSPB called on the UK government and devolved administrations to carry out a census of seabird colonies to allow scientists to accurately monitor long-term trends.

Doug Gilbert, head of reserves ecology for RSPB Scotland, said: "The terrible season for critical colonies in the far north warns us that seabird populations in the UK remain in real danger.

"This is against the backdrop of long-term decline for many species. Carrying out another full census is vital.

"By knowing how different species are faring, conservationists can then attempt to determine causes of decline and the means of protecting these species."

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